Schlesinger says west coast or option … it's still football

2004-06-23T00:00:00Z Schlesinger says west coast or option … it's still footballBy DON STRECKER, Telegram Sports Editor Columbus Telegram

COLUMBUS - Cory Schlesinger spent about 20 seconds Tuesday explaining what Nebraska's change in offensive philosophy, from the option to the west coast offense, will mean for the Husker running backs.

Then the Detroit Lions starting fullback and former Columbus High standout smiled.

"The big west coast thing is kind of funny to me," Schlesinger said. "You still run the ball, you pass the ball when you play-action it. … It's still football."

Schlesinger was the guest speaker Tuesday at the Rotary Club meeting held over the noon hour at the Elks Country Club.

Preparing for his 10th season in the NFL, all with the Lions, Schlesinger spent several minutes commenting on some of the highlights of his pro career before taking questions from those in attendance.

The first two questions dealt with the west coast offense, which the Lions run under head coach Steve Mariucci.

Nebraska will run the west coast this fall after hiring former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan to replace Frank Solich, who was fired after last season despite NU's 10-3 record.

"In the West Coast, everybody's going to have an opportunity," Schlesinger said. "The fullback's not going to be a blocker anymore. He's going to be in the routes, catching a lot of balls, and the running backs are going to be out there, catching balls.

"There's a lot of verbiage I think the players will notice more than anything. I think Callahan's going to try to throw the ball a little bit more."

Schlesinger has benefitted from the Lions' use of the west coast offense. Considered one of the best pure fullbacks in the league, Schlesinger is known for his blocking ability, but he has still amassed some impressive stats.

Over the past three seasons, he has 129 receptions for 976 yards, along with 309 yards rushing. He has been named an alternate to the Pro Bowl for the NFC each of the last two years.

Schlesinger was named the winner of the team's Bobby Layne Offensive MVP Award and the Mike Utley Spirit Award, both of which are voted on by the players, at the end of the 2003 season. He caught 34 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns for a team that finished with a 5-11 record.

Detroit has won only 10 games in the last three years, yet Schlesinger said every game at Ford Field is sold out.

"Lions fans are kind of like Husker fans," Schlesinger said. "The Lions are their team, so they're going to stand behind them. … The Pistons just won the (NBA) championship, and the Red Wings have won (the Stanley Cup). I think people are excited to see what the Lions can do this year."

The two awards added to a long list of honors that Schlesinger has received. A sixth-round draft pick in 1995, Schlesinger was named to the 2001 All-Pro Team by Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman, known as 'Dr. Z,' and to the College and Pro Football Newsweekly 2001 All-Pro Second Team squad. He has also been named to the All-Madden team, made famous by sportscaster and former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden.

But the most meaningful to him may be the Ed Block Courage Award, which he won after the 2002 season. The award, which is given to a player on each NFL team every year, is voted on by the players and honors the player who displays a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.

Schlesinger played the 2002 season with a cracked vertebrae, a separated collarbone or a pinched nerve in his neck.

Schlesinger, who has three more years remaining on his contract with the Lions, said he didn't know how much longer he would be playing.

"I've been playing for 10 years now, and every year I say I'm going to play just for next year," said Schlesinger, who added that the Lions' training camp for the 2004 season opens on July 30.

"That's the only thing you can do because you don't know who they're going to bring in, you don't know if you're going to get injured, you don't know what's going to happen to you. They might not like you anymore. So you just play one year at a time, and hopefully, you can just be on the team and perform well and just have a great season with that team."

Schlesinger attributes a lot of what he has accomplished to Solich, who was his position coach during his days at Nebraska.

"Solich was my guy," Schlesinger said. "He brought me in and taught me a lot about football. I liked him, and I hated to see him go.

"I think Callahan is going to do a good job for the Huskers. I really wish them a lot of luck. I think this offense will be pretty exciting for the fans."

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