USA Today

The long road to get back to the NFL field is now over for Ryan Shazier. The star linebacker suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in December 2017, fueling fears of paralysis. He's since beat those concerns and continued to rehab with hopes of one day beating the odds and returning to the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he's now decided that's not the best course of action going forward. He's instead announced his retirement from football, in an emotional message to all.

"When I was five years old I made the greatest discovery of my life: I discovered a game I love, the game of football," Shazier said in a two-part video on Twitter. "Ever since then, I've given my life to the game. I love everything about it -- playing it, practicing it, studying it, watching it, talking about it and thinking about it. Football gave me everything I could ever want and more. It taught me about hard work, dedication, teamwork. 

"It took me to college and the NFL. It made me money and gave me a life that most people could only dream about. I'm here today to make sure the world loves how much I love the game of football." 

Shazier went on to show his eternal appreciation to the Steelers, their fans and all who pulled for him along the way.

"...I also want to thank the people of Pittsburgh," he continued. "You have been with me through the good times and the rough times, but never more than through my recovery. ... And thank you to everyone all around the world who prayed for me. I need your strength and your spirit, and you gave it to me. 

"... When I got hurt, football may have been taken away from me, but everything it gave me is still here inside. I am incredibly grateful for that and I am truly excited now to discover what's next." 

A former 15th-overall pick of the Steelers in 2014, Shazier proved himself worth the selection, going on to garner a Pro Bowl nod in 2016 and 2017, respectively, before suffering the aforementioned injury. The upside on Shazier was tremendous, as also evidenced in how he was named First-Team All-American and First-Team All-Big Ten just ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft. His perseverance has been a motivation to all, and the Steelers continued to honor him by keeping him on the team's reserve list and choosing to pay him in 2018 -- despite having the option to rescind his fifth-year option -- during his recovery.

His football career has now officially come to an end, but the future remains bright for a player who could've gone on to be one of the best to ever play the game.