From Stillwater to the Steel City, Brian Arnfelt has realized his dream. After the NFL draft last April, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed the defensive end to a rookie free-agent contract.

Signing on that dotted line was a moment he’ll cherish forever.

“It’s definitely a dream when you’re growing up and watching pro football,” Arnfelt said. “That was always the end goal. It was definitely very exciting for me and my family.”

The former Stillwater star was named to the 2007 Star Tribune Dream Team and was made second-team all-state by the Associated Press. He served as the Ponies’ captain and helped lead them to their most recent state tournament appearance, in 2007. Arnfelt also lettered four years for Stillwater’s track and field team, winning the Suburban East Conference and section shot put championships as a senior.

The 6-4, 298-pound defensive end moved on to Northwestern and put together a strong senior season last fall as one of four team captains, making 25 tackles, forcing two fumbles and recovering one fumble.

Arnfelt’s parents still live in Lake Elmo, where he grew up, and he has kept in touch with the Stillwater program, even though the staff has changed a bit. He’s heard good things about the current staff and looks forward to keeping an eye on the Ponies’ upcoming season.

There was a possibility Arnfelt would be selected in the later rounds of the NFL draft. Once it concluded without his name being called, he knew he had plenty of options.

“I’m really just blessed that I have this opportunity,” Arnfelt said. “What’s done is done. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m just really excited to get a chance in this organization.”

Arnfelt, his family and his agent discussed all the rookie free-agent possibilities and considered which would be the best fit for his situation. When the time came to make the decision, they knew which contract to sign.

“Pittsburgh’s a great organization,” he said. “They take real good care of their players. They have a great track record. It’s just a great opportunity for me to come in and keep playing football.”

Arnfelt is looking to compete anywhere the Steelers want him. He can play anywhere on the defensive line and is hoping to fight for a spot on the special teams unit as well.

While living out a long, prosperous professional football career is not guaranteed, Arnfelt has an education to fall back on — even if he’s not thinking about that at all right now.

“I’m really fortunate to go to Northwestern and leave there with my undergrad and master’s degree, but I’m extremely focused on this upcoming task and I’m getting prepared as much as I can to go into camp,” said Arnfelt, who majored in communications studies, minored in business institutions and legal studies and is working toward his master’s in sports administration.

Once off-season training activities (OTAs) and Steelers minicamp finished up in June, Arnfelt flew back to Chicago. He’s been working out at Northwestern ever since. He knows this next step will be the hardest one yet.

“I think if you’re going to go to this level, everyone’s big, everyone’s fast, everyone’s strong,” he said. “I’m trying to incorporate a good balance of that into my training.”

Arnfelt has been working a lot on flexibility, speed, agility, redirection. He’s looking forward to the next challenge in his life, a dream: a career in professional football.

“I’ve been focused on football-specific training more so than ever before,” he said.