PITTSBRGH -- Emmanuel Sanders knows all about adversity on the football field. That still didn't prepare him for the tragedy he experienced one month ago.
On Nov. 1, he was informed that his mother had died suddenly. She was just 41 years old.
Sanders, a wide receiver in his second season with the Steelers, used his Twitter account to announce the sad news.
"Mom passed away this morning," he tweeted. "Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you because you never know when that day will come."
When Sanders learned of his mother's death, he was experiencing some personal hardship of his own. In the Oct. 30 win over New England, he suffered a knee injury that would have to be surgically repaired.
It would be the third time this year that Sanders underwent the knife after having two -off-season surgeries. The first operation repaired a bone in his foot that he broke in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. The second procedure was needed to fix a stress fracture in his other foot.
"I've definitely had my share of ups and downs this year," Sanders said. "But at the end of the day, that only makes me stronger. That's how I look at it. I'm only 24. But I'm growing as a man."
Sanders, the most prolific pass catcher ever at Southern Methodist University, is a bright and articulate young Texan with a bubbly personality. He's a lot like his mother, who was a good athlete in her own right when she played basketball and ran track at Bellville High School in suburban Houston.
In her obituary, Stephanie Sanders was described as "an outgoing person ... life of the party ... she loved to have fun and enjoyed making people laugh."
"You never think in a million years that something like this will happen to you," Sanders said. "And then one day it happens and it opens your eyes. Wow! That's the reality of the world. Things like this can happen to anyone. Out of the blue -- one day she's here, the next day she's gone."
While Sanders dearly misses his mom, he knows he must remain strong. He has two younger sisters, Precious and LaSabria, who are 22 and 19.
"They leaned on my mom a lot, so now I have to fill that void," he said. "They took it so hard, so I have to be there for them."
Sanders said he's lucky to have football as an outlet to help him cope with the loss of his mother. This past Sunday in Kansas City, Sanders played for the first time since hurting his knee in the New England game. He was back in the rotation at wide receiver with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Hines Ward. Although he only caught two passes for 25 yards, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw to him four times.
Sanders also made his debut as the return man on kickoffs and averaged 19.3 yards on four returns.
"I didn't do as well as I thought I could do, but I will do better this week," he said.
Because of his injuries, Sanders isn't having the kind of season in his second year as a pro as he anticipated. Last year, he had 28 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns. So far this year, he's caught 20 passes for 268 yards and two TDs.
But starting Sunday against the Bengals, there are five more regular-season games to play and Sanders feels good about his chances of being more productive. He's healthy again, and he knows he has the support of his teammates on and off the field.
"They've helped me out a lot," he said. "They've definitely been like a band of brothers. They've been a great support system for me."
"I've gone through a personal loss, too," said Roethlisberger, whose mother died in a car accident when he was just 8 years old. "I think a lot of times when things like this happen to someone, maybe you don't want to necessarily talk about it, but at the same time, you want to know that there's someone you can talk to.
"That's what I wanted to do with Emmanuel. If he needs someone to talk to, I'll be there for him. I told him. We're thinking about you. We're praying for you. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you.'
"For now, I'm glad Emmanuel has football. Being able to play football is a great way to take your mind off of things that happen in life."