Schlereth blocks out adversity to win award

March 28, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

Mark Schlereth made the shortest trip and took the longest road to tonight's 17th annual Ed Block Courage Award Dinner.

Schlereth had a short drive from his home in Reston, Va., to the dinner that honors former Colts trainer Ed Block and provides funds to support abused children in Courage Houses around the country.

Each team selects one player to be honored and his now-former Washington Redskins teammates picked Schlereth, a six-year veteran guard, to represent them this year.

He's a symbol of the courage that the Block award is all about.

He has overcome nine knee surgeries in his career, and kept playing in 1992 even though he now says he should have undergone surgery during the season instead of waiting until it was over.

He sometimes would wake up screaming the night before a game when his knees locked, but that was a piece of cake compared to the illness he suffered in 1993.

Doctors diagnosed a neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome that affects one in 100,000 people and can be fatal.

"People talk about there not being any more miracles, that God doesn't do miracles. I'm living proof the Lord does perform miracles. There's no way in the world I should be playing in this league," he said.

Neither the Redskins nor the doctors told him he never would play again after he lost the feeling in his lower arms and legs and he went on the injured reserve list in the second half of the season.

But he got the idea the Redskins no longer were counting on him.

"All last year, it was like they were waiting for me to fail instead of hoping I'd succeed. It's tough mentally to play under those conditions when you don't feel you have a lot of people in your corner," he said.

It's easy to see why Schlereth, who now weighs 297 pounds, wasn't considered a prime contender to return. His weight dropped to the 250s and he was only at 277 when he arrived at camp last year.

"It was like I was a rookie having to learn to play football all over again. You have to train your body how to play the game," he said.

Although he took 607 of a possible 1,016 snaps, Schlereth could see he no longer fit into the Redskins' plans, even though doctors say he's not likely to get the illness again.

When he started out on the free-agent market, teams were leery of him. "They couldn't get behind the fact I had nine knee surgeries. They were going to flunk me on the physical," he said.

The Denver Broncos, though, made a detailed examination of his knees and confirmed Schlereth's feeling that his knees are fine and he can be a good player again. This past weekend, they signed him to a three-year, $2.4 million deal with a $600,000 signing bonus.

"I'm really excited," he said. "I have a chance to go somewhere where I have a new opportunity, a place where I feel like I'm wanted."

Schlereth said he wants to recapture the days when he was a Pro Bowl player on the 1991 Super Bowl team and playing football wasn't a job.

He said that all changed when Joe Gibbs resigned as coach two years ago. He said the first sign that things would be different was when Art Monk and Earnest Byner lost their starting jobs in the off-season before the 1993 season.

Schlereth said the Redskins started discarding players "like an old dishrag" and replaced them "with guys who don't have the same work ethic."

Schlereth said he "doesn't want to bash the organization. . . . I don't have any animosity toward anybody."

But he said he sees the trend continuing with linebacker Andre Collins, who's expected to be released now that the Redskins have signed free agents Rod Stephens and Marvcus Patton.

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