ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Life is full of ironies, and here’s another: an Anchorage, Alaska kid named Mark Schlereth – who today is one of the most prominent and articulate NFL analysts in the country – once couldn’t read.
“I grew up a dyslexic kid,” Schlereth said. “I didn’t learn to read until the seventh grade. It was a real struggle.”
It was an obstacle he overcame. Later, of course, he graduated high school and then played football at the University of Idaho, won multiple Super Bowl rings, acted in a soap opera, put his name on a brand of green chile, and is in his 14th season as an in-studio NFL analyst for ESPN.
Those reading difficulties were part of his message Wednesday to several hundred members of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association, who gathered to hear Schlereth speak at the Crowne Plaza Hotel during North-South week.
The message: be a beacon for students, just as one of his teachers in Alaska was for him as he learned to read.
“It’s incredibly powerful, and it should be cherished,” he told the crowd, referring to their coaching/teaching careers. “It’s a huge responsibility.”
Schlereth, 48, played 12 years in the NFL. He has three Super Bowl rings – one with Washington, two with Denver. He was a multiple Pro Bowler, and retired after the 2000 season.
He touched on a wide range of topics during his 90-minute appearance, including the fact that actor Hugh Jackman is apparently a fan of his.
On Ray Rice’s two-game suspension for allegedly knocking his then-fiance unconscious and his thoughts on the NFL’s seemingly haphazard methods of doling out punishment:
“This decision really shocked me,” said Schlereth, who in addition to his ESPN duties also hosts a national, daily radio talk show. “There’s not a lot of genius involved in the NFL when it comes to some of the decisions that are being made there.”
Schlereth said if he were commissioner, he’d have suspended Rice for eight games.
On the controversial Redskins moniker and whether it’s soon to be replaced:
“I believe so,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time, and rightfully so.”
Is there a team outside the top four – generally thought to be Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and New England – who could hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February?
“I like the Packers,” said Schlereth, who spent two years acting on the daytime soap “Guiding Light” starting in 2007.
On his desire to possibly move out of the studio and into a game analyst position (his ESPN contract expires this year):
“It would certainly be something I would be interested in if I had that opportunity,” he said.
On his memories of playing for Joe Gibbs, the man who drafted him:
“He would always say, ‘Lose yourself. It’s not about you, it’s about us,’ ” Schlereth said.
It was this last point that Schlereth returned to frequently Wednesday, as he hammered home that necessity to a room full of football coaches, including the likes of Clovis’ Eric Roanhaus.
“(He wanted) guys who cared more about the people they played with than themselves,” Schlereth said. “Joe understood that.”
Schlereth was a 10th-round draft pick out of Idaho who had to convince NFL scouts to let him work out for them.
He had played three years with the Vandals on defense, but after an injury – he had nearly 30 surgeries in his career, a majority of them knee-related – moved to the offensive line as a senior. He had a prosperous career in the NFL as a guard, but that chance didn’t come easy after college.
“I begged teams just to give me an opportunity,” he said.
Schlereth said he was determined to fulfill the dream he had as a 12-year-old of one day competing in the NFL.