PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger will marry a 26-year-old physician's assistant whom he said he met during training camp in 2005 and has been friends with ever since, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for a story in Thursday's editions.
Roethlisberger, speaking publicly for the first time since the Steelers' loss to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl, talked about his fiancee, her family and the impact their engagement has had on everyone involved since it leaked out in various media outlets late last year.
His wedding is scheduled for July 23, which is a week before Steelers training camp is scheduled to begin, unless the NFL's lockout still is ongoing.
Roethlisberger said he was surprised by how much media attention his engagement to Ashley Harlan received when news of it leaked out earlier this year to news media.
"I was surprised at how much media attention it was getting -- it's just an engagement," he told the newspaper. "I never expected it to be on the front pages of all the papers and websites. There was speculation what our invitations would look like and who is coming! It almost seemed surreal, it was like a movie or something, it was weird."
Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette that he has tried to change his image and his behavior since he was accused in March of sexual assault by a 20-year-old college student -- the second time since 2008 that he faced assault allegations. Georgia authorities declined to bring charges, but he received a four-game suspension at the start of this season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
"People will always have opinions of everybody and me, and that's fine, they're entitled," Roethlisberger told the newspaper.
He said he has received correspondence from fans telling him there was something different about him -- even before reports of his engagement became public.
He said they would write: " 'Ben, you look like something's different with you. You look like a happier person, you play happy, you smile more on the field.' Part of that is because I'm a happier person, I'm in a happy place, but a lot of that has to do with her, too," he told the newspaper.
He said he tries to shield his fiance the best he can from fans and the media. He said some people have shown up at her parents' house and have done "some things."
"That bothers me a little bit because it's what I do for a living, I have to deal with it, but her parents and her, that's not what they have to do," he told the newspaper. "I understand it's going to happen a little bit, but I'm still going to try to be very protective of the people I love -- my family, my sister, my aunts, uncles, grandparents and now her."
Roethlisberger said he expects about 500 people at the wedding. He said they'll be asked to make donations to his charitable foundation instead of giving gifts.
"I don't know if it's ever been done before, but it's something I wanted to do and she's on board," he told the newspaper. "We're just hoping that people who come to the wedding give a dollar or a thousand dollars or whatever it is, and at the end we'll put it all together and write a big check to Ronald McDonald House and Children's Hospital and put everyone's name who donated."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.