Photo: Cory Schlesinger teaching technical drafting and computer-aided design at Allen Park High School. Lions photo courtesy the Detroit Lions.
From Glory Days featuring Cory Schlesinger
National Champion and Former Detroit Lion, Cory Schlesinger, came from a very humble beginning. His house was so far away from his high school in Columbus, Nebraska, that he was allowed a farmer’s permit to drive at age 14. Cory was a multi-sport athlete in Nebraska, but since kindergarten he’d been competing in wrestling and went on to win the state championship during both his junior and senior year in high school. “In wrestling, just like in football, you must be aggressive but smart,” he shared.
Wrestling was not the only aggressive sport Schlesinger enjoyed. At age 15 Cory made his debut in a demolition derby, something his dad frequently competed in. During the first round, Cory was black flagged for not hitting anyone, disqualifying him from the race, however, he was given a second chance in the consolation race. Taking advice from his dad, Schlesinger won that consolation round, which qualified him for the finals. As fate would have it, that final demolition race came down to Cory, his dad and his brother, with Cory taking home the trophy.
Since his days in pee wee football, Schlesinger only played linebacker until his senior year in high school. A friend pushed him to train harder than ever so that when the season started they both would be good enough to play offense and defense, a common thing for small town high schools. Cory quickly became a natural at the running back position and his running abilities caught the attention of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
He was immediately intimidated by this major college program, as the team started out with 11 fullbacks. Through working hard and hitting hard in practice, Cory quickly rose to the top of the depth chart. Old teammates would tell him years later that because of how hard he would hit them, they would try to hurt him as payback.
During his senior year in 1994, the Cornhuskers made it to the NCAA Championship game against the University of Miami Hurricanes. Although Schlesinger would score the go ahead and winning touchdowns in that game, his best memory of that game was on the opening kickoff. “As the kick returner ran the ball back, I hit the one coverage guy so hard that he was instantly knocked out,” he said. In his autobiography, NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp who was a member of the Hurricanes that day, wrote that they were not intimidated at all by Nebraska until they saw how hard Cory hit his teammate on that opening kickoff.
After that season, Schlesinger was not invited to the NFL draft combine but when scouts came to the Nebraska pro day, he surprised many NFL teams. “Growing up in a town of 410 people, nobody would think that I would make it to the NFL,” Cory shared, but he proved that thought wrong in the sixth round of the 1994 NFL Draft when he was selected by the Detroit Lions. As soon as he was on the team, he was told that he was not drafted to run or catch the ball but to block for superstar running back Barry Sanders. For most of his rookie year, he would serve as Barry’s lead blocker but as the season was coming to an end, Barry began to run his own routes. The Lions decided to switch to an offense that normally did not use a fullback, so Cory became more of a special team’s specialist. Despite the challenge of not being on the offense a lot, as well as the frequent coaching changes the Lions went through in those days, Schlesinger managed to have 12 years in the NFL. He would try for a 13th with the Miami Dolphins but was cut during the preseason.
From the start of his NFL career, Cory began to think about what would come next. Fullbacks do not get paid like other starters and Cory always believed that it only takes one hit for your career to be over. In the off-season, he would go back to Nebraska and take some classes, slowly finishing his teaching degree. Cory then began to substitute teach at his old high school in the following off-seasons. He was then recruited by Allen Park High School, right around the corner from the Lions’ headquarters. He taught technical drafting and computer-aided design or CAD for short. “Being in the classroom that first semester was much more terrifying than playing in the NFL,” Cory recalls. He has now been teaching, as well as coaching football, at Allen Park High for ten years. His goal is to teach kids something greater than football and make his student athletes aware that sports do not last forever and they need to be prepared for the real world afterwards.
When it comes to transitions in life, Cory Schlesinger tells his students that no matter what you want to do in life, you need to have a desire to go out and do it. You have to have a passion for it, work hard at it and not make excuses for it. This is how he got from a small town in Nebraska to the NFL and wants his students to use that same mentality in their everyday lives.
You can catch Cory Schlesinger’s full TV interview this Sunday, April 8th on From Glory Days, on TV20 Detroit at 6:00 a.m. Set your alarms or DVRs to hear Cory’s story directly from this former NCAA Football Champion and Detroit Lions Alum himself.
Check out other athletes featured on the From Glory Days page.
Michael Holzman is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn with honors, with a BA in Communications. He also has a communications and broadcasting degree from Specs Howard School of Media Arts. A native of the Detroit area, Michael is now an associate producer for the TV show, “From Glory Days” and also works for Yellow Flag Productions, primarily reporting and gathering video for their popular show, “State Champs Sports Network.”