Former Lion Cory Schlesinger has remained in Detroit following his playing days

Posted Jan 11, 2013

After earning the nickname of 'Sledge' as a fullback with the Detroit Lions, Cory Schlesinger has turned his attention to teaching students to build things, not destroy them.

Players who competed against Cory Schlesinger and fans who watched him throughout the 12 seasons he played fullback for the Detroit Lions might have a hard time reconciling the career shift he took after his retirement from the NFL.

As a player, he smashed whatever got in his way, either as a lead blocker for the likes of Barry Sanders and James Stewart, or would-be tacklers who got in his way on the occasions he had the ball as a receiver or runner.

Schlesinger was known for destroying his own facemasks – as many as 20 in a season – from the violent contact he made. He once had a celebrated hit on Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who was known for avoiding contact.

These days, Schlesinger is tackling the chore of teaching students to build things, not destroy them.

During his playing career, Schlesinger continued his education at Nebraska to prepare for life after pro football. Schlesinger earned a degree in teaching and has been putting it to use the last five years as a teacher in Allen Park High School's industrial arts program.

It was a natural progression for Schlesinger.

"After 12 years of the NFL, it was time to use my degree and start using my brain again," he said.

The fact that Schlesinger looked ahead to a post-playing career is proof that his brain wasn't dormant as a player. He went back to Nebraska in two offseasons and taught architectural drafting.

Schlesinger and his wife, Karen, and their two children remained in Detroit after his football career ended.

At Allen Park High, Schlesinger teaches a wide-range of construction-related programs in grades 9-12, such as architectural drafting, home repair, pouring cement, floor framing, wall framing, electrical work and plumbing.

They are all skills that can be used to get a job in the real world after high school, or go on to more advanced programs in college.

"We kind of get a basis for home repair or new construction," Schlesinger said. "A lot of this stuff is an introduction into what they might possible go into."

There is a practical application – do-it-yourself home repairs as opposed to calling an expensive specialist to do some repairs.

"You can't hire somebody all the time," Schlesinger said. "Sometimes you have to use your hands."

Allen Park's students and teachers know Schlesinger's reputation from his days as a Lion. As time passes, recognition comes more from teachers and parents as opposed to students. He doesn't dwell on his pro reputation.

"Cory's such a generous, kind and wonderful person," said Janet Wasko, Allen Park's principal. "He doesn't stand on ceremony, but everyone knows who he is.

"He cares about the whole student body. It's not just about football."

Allen Park has an enrollment of 1,150 students. Schlesinger's daily caseload is about 120 students, Wasko said.

There is a parallel between teaching and how Schlesinger survived 12 seasons with the Lions.

Playing fullback requires different skills for specialized situations – blocking, running, receiving, adjusting to changing defensive formations.

Try framing a wall and caulking a window with the same tool – a hammer.

Schlesinger made the Lions in 1995 as a sixth-round draft pick out of Nebraska. At 6 feet and 247 pounds, he was a rock-hard land-clearing machine on everything from covering kickoffs to being a lead blocker.

Schlesinger was well respected for his durability and dependability. His locker-room nickname of "Sledge" was well earned. He hit like a sledgehammer.

Schlesinger recalls his encounter with Deion Sanders with a laugh.

"I ran a play, and I kind of had a late hit on him," Schlesinger said. "He said, 'What are you doing?'

"I told him, 'That's the only time I get a chance to hit you. So I did.'

"He said, 'All right. That's cool.'

"I never touched him again."

For the most part, fullbacks labor in obscurity. That wasn't entirely the case for Schlesinger. In 2008, he was voted the fullback on the Lions' 75-year anniversary team.

Schlesinger's highlight as a runner was in the 1995 Orange Bowl. He had touchdown runs of 15 and 14 yards in the fourth quarter in Nebraska's 24-17 win over Miami. That gave Nebraska its third national championship.

Schlesinger had some memorable days with the Lions. They made the playoffs three times in his first five seasons, and he had the privilege of blocking for Barry Sanders when he rushed for 2,053 yards in 1997.

Schlesinger was released by the Lions after the 2006 seasons. He went to training camp with Miami in 2007 but didn't make the team. His body told him it was time.

"It was hot, I was getting older - it was time to retire," he said.  "My body couldn't run as fast. The nagging injuries were starting to catch up."

There are some things that no tool can fix.