In the spring of '89, NFL scouts invaded Moscow to look at a couple of pro prospects, neither of whom was Schlereth. But he talked his way into the tryouts. Though he could bench-press 500 pounds and run the 40 in 4.7 seconds, most scouts were skeptical because of his numerous position changes—he played nosetackle, defensive tackle, center and guard—and his even more numerous operations.
Washington's defensive line coach, Torgy Torgeson, spotted Schlereth while scouting Idaho defensive end Marvin Washington, who wound up with the New York Jets. Torgeson called Joe Bugel, then the Skins' assistant head coach and now coach of the Phoenix Cardinals. "Get up to Idaho," Torgeson said. "There's something you ought to see."
"Idaho!" said Bugel. "Where the heck is Idaho?"
Bugel eventually found Idaho and a 275-pounder with "powerful hands and a powerful grip." The Skins took Schlereth in the 10th round. "I had no doubt he'd make it," says Jim Hanifan, who is now his offensive line coach. "He's tough, hardnosed and extremely smart." Schlereth belies the idea that offensive linemen are unskilled players who just bang into other big guys. He treats the Redskin playbook like a sacred text. "Reading the game plan is no problem," he says. "X's and O's are pretty distinguishable."
Last season he put in an extra 45 minutes a day going over game film. It paid off. Before a game with the Houston Oilers, he noticed that whenever defensive end Ray Childress crouched at the line with his feet together, he would go inside; whenever his feet were apart, he would plow straight ahead. Which explains why Schlereth manhandled Childress. "I'm not going to lose my job because I don't work hard enough," Schlereth says.
He related that story in June during a Pig-Out With a Hog Luncheon at the Boys' and Girls' Club of Greater Anchorage. Then he took a question from the audience: "Is it true that your dad once beat you in the bench press?" The questioner is Herb. "Yeah, that's true," answers Mark. "I think I was eight.""
A question from a nonrelative: "What motivates you?"
"Setting goals," Mark says. He enumerates the goals he set down on paper for himself at 14:
1. To have lots of fun.
2. To get a wife.
3. To have kids.
4. To get a job in pro football.
5. To have an insurance job to fall back on.
6. To make enough money so that my family can have a good life.
7. To pass high school.
8. To go to college.
9. To get a scholarship.
10. To go to heaven.
Schlereth has taken care of numbers 1 through 4 and 6 through 9. Number 5 no longer interests him. "And number 10," he says, "is still down the road."