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JuJu Smith-Schuster relishes role as Steelers' No. 1 hype man

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PITTSBURGH -- Still holding the football after he scored for the second time this season, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington skipped over to JuJu Smith-Schuster -- who was waiting for him in the end zone.

Smith-Schuster stooped and hoisted the 5-foot-11, 213-pound receiver across his shoulders, holding on to his right leg with one hand and his right hand with the other as he twirled Washington around. Tight end Eric Ebron grabbed the ball in Washington's outstretched left hand and jumped in a circle around the pair as he held the ball in the air.

It should come as no surprise the celebration was Smith-Schuster's brainchild.

"We actually didn't practice that," Washington said. "That was just JuJu just thinking. So we were kind of thinking like 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' where they kind of picked [Will Smith] up and spun him on the court."

Washington, of course, is describing a moment in the intro to the popular 1990s sitcom, which aired its finale six months before the 23-year-old Smith-Schuster was born. Even still, it's relevant in today's pop culture -- especially for a kid from Los Angeles.

"Something we all grew up with and I would say we all watched is 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,'" Smith-Schuster said. "It's very funny that we can relate to that. So I pick up James, spun him around. The boys around me, we're just enjoying our time. A lot of our celebrations either may come the night before, the week before or even the series before we go out there. If you score multiple touchdowns with multiple wide receivers, when we run out of celebrations, we make them up as we go."

Through five games, Smith-Schuster looks less like Pittsburgh's No. 1 receiver and more like its No. 1 hype man -- and that’s not a knock.

It's a byproduct of the balanced passing attack, one that's given Smith-Schuster plenty of opportunities to get creative with TD celebrations and energize his teammates.

"He is the fun leader in the group," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He brings a lot of energy and excitement to the team. That's what we are excited about. When I said last week that he was excited for other guys, what you see on Sunday is what you get with JuJu. He is that guy. That's truly who he is; he's not putting on a show. He loves playing the game and he loves the teammates, and I think that is a great combination.”

Entering a contract year tabbed as the No. 1 wide receiver, it would be easy for Smith-Schuster to get upset about having modest totals for targets (28), yards (194), touchdowns (3) and receptions (23). But that's not his attitude. Praised by Roethlisberger a week ago for his selflessness during Chase Claypool's big day, Smith-Schuster echoed that attitude on Wednesday, after his lowest receiving yard total since his rookie debut: two receptions for six yards.

"People were talking about 'He only got me two points this week for fantasy.’ I was like, 'Well, I mean, I'd rather have two points and be 5-0 than to be 1-4 and to have 25 fantasy points," Smith-Schuster said. "So for me, I like it for myself, so I'm always having fun regardless."

Entering Sunday's game against the unbeaten Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Roethlisberger has thrown 11 touchdowns to five different pass catchers, including one to Ebron, the tight end.

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"I just feel like we have so many weapons, you just never know who's gonna have a day," Washington said. "With as many mouths to feed on offense as we have, you can't just keep one guy or two guys, because I feel like everyone's capable of having a big game."

Roethlisberger, who entered the year somewhat concerned about building chemistry with his newer receivers in an abbreviated offseason, is confidently spreading the ball around. And each week, a hot target emerges.

Recently it’s been the rookie Claypool and Washington, but Smith-Schuster had two touchdown catches in the season opener against the New York Giants. To celebrate his first, he did the "Who's Next?" dance, popularized on TikTok, and Ebron and Diontae Johnson joined in.

"TikTok is popular right now," Smith-Schuster told teammate Bud Dupree on Dupree's web series. "So we grab the fans from TikTok and get them to tune in and get my teammates involved. The more people you have, the better it is. Everyone's like, 'Oh my god, no he did not just do that.'"

After the second touchdown, he ran to the goal line and lay on his stomach in front of the pylon camera, cradled his face in his hands and kicked his feet back and forth behind him. He initially planned to pick up the pylon camera for a selfie, he told Dupree, but when he had checked with a referee ahead of time, he was told that wasn't allowed.

Smith-Schuster doesn't just celebrate when he gets into the end zone. He also helps his teammates come up with choreography.

He got Claypool on TikTok and taught him some of the viral dances, something that came in pretty handy in Claypool’s four-touchdown day against the Philadelphia Eagles.

In one of Claypool’s celebrations, he mimed that the football was glued to his hand. Then Smith-Schuster and Washington ran over and pretended to pull the ball really hard. All three of them fell over as the ball came "unstuck" from Claypool's glove. On another TD, running back James Conner pretended to box Claypool in the corner. The next time, Claypool ran back to the end zone, pretending to help Washington reel in a fish, played by Smith-Schuster. Then Washington and Claypool posed with the horizontal Smith-Schuster on the field.

"I'm having fun all the time, whether I get the ball or not, whether I get two catches for 10 yards or I get six catches for 60 yards," Smith-Schuster said. "For me, it's more so about the team, the atmosphere. If our defense is having fun and they're doing their job, offense is having fun, my teammates are having fun, I come in with the celebrations."