Ottawa Rough Riders

Mike Schad - Offensive Line - 1995 - Queens

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Schad blazed a trail - QMI Agency - 29-04-2011

Almost exactly 25 years after Belleville native and Moira Secondary School graduate Mike Schad made history, another offensive lineman from Canada followed in his giant footsteps.


The former Queen's Golden Gael, who became the first Canadian selected in the first round of the National Football League draft on April 29, 1986, watched a fellow Canadian - Danny Watkins of Kelowna, B.C. - join his exclusive club on Thursday night.


On the silver anniversary of the Los Angeles (now St. Louis) Rams' decision to pick Schad 23rd overall, the former Moira Trojan, 47, was talking about another Canuck being selected in the exact same spot.


"Another Canadian picked 23rd overall, eh? Pretty crazy," Schad chuckled, speaking Friday via telephone from his home in Marlton, N.J., after the team he used to play for and the team he now cheers for - the Philadelphia Eagles - snapped up Watkins from NCAA Division I Baylor University in Texas.


"Pretty crazy," said Schad. "He's a guard, too. Usually, they don't go that high. It's tackles or centres (that do). He must be pretty good. (Eagles coach) Andy Reid is no fool."


Now in the mortgage business, the six-foot-five Schad - a member of the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame - remains the one and only Canadian university player to be taken in the first round of the NFL. Only three other Canadians have accomplished the feat - Tony Mandarich (1989, second to Green Bay, Michigan State), Tim Biakabutuka (1996, eighth to Carolina, Michigan) and Watkins.


Like Schad, the six-foot-four, 312-pound Watkins, 26, has defied staggering odds to reach this stage. A firefighter in Kelowna, Watkins attended a junior college near Sacramento, California, to study fire science. At Butte College, people suggested the big man try out for football, a sport Watkins had never played.


He was a quick learner. Watkins played two years at Butte and two years at Baylor, establishing himself as a top prospect in a league in which just 11 Canadians played last year (one was Kingston-born linebacker Cory Greenwood of the Kansas City Chiefs).
"It's an unbelievable road (Watkins) has taken," Schad said.


So too was Schad's. A linebacker his first two years at Queen's, Schad played just two years as a guard before his draft day.
Remember, Queen's - or any Canadian university for that matter, especially back then - didn't exactly rank as a hot spot for NFL scouts. Schad opened American eyes at the East-West Shrine game and a testing camp in New Orleans.
"(Watkins) played two years at a junior college ... and that's really good competitive football," said Schad. "He also played two years at Baylor, which is a big-name school.


"Canadian football has made big strides, but we didn't even have spring ball back then. I went to a (Queen's football) reunion and most of the guys are doctors, principals, superintendents or lawyers. You can't say that about most college teams (in the United States). It's a different animal."


Schad figures Watkins will be "10 times more prepared" than he was for the NFL.
Twenty-five years ago, Schad watched the draft in Toronto with his agent, Gil Scott. When the Rams took him, he phoned home to Belleville to tell his parents, Helmet and Ursula, the good news.


"I remember it very vividly. It was very exciting. I had to pack a suitcase for him and bring it down to Toronto because he was flying right (to Los Angeles)," said the friendly Ursula, a proud mother of three and grandmother of seven (Mike and his wife, Christina, have two kids - Kali, 5, and Colt, 3).


"I was a bit late and I remember sitting on the highway looking at the clock and being a bit worried (she wouldn't make it). They were waiting for the suitcase and then they had to take off."


Added Mike: "My whole life, I didn't even own a car. The only things I had were the suitcase my parents brought for me, my equipment bag from Queen's, a gym bag and a student loan. At Queen's, someone stole my bike. I had nothing."
Apart from the financial improvement (Schad's first contract was a reported US $1.3 million over four years), things didn't get much easier in Hollywood. The day after the draft, the headline in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner was 'A day of hype, hope and who?'
Staff reporter John Czarnecki wrote: "(The Rams) found (quarterback) Dieter Brock a real-life Canadian bodyguard (who's next Wayne Gretzky?)."


The learning curve on the field was steep, too.


"I don't know why they drafted me," Schad said. "They had five Pro Bowlers on the line and Eric Dickerson running the ball. They drafted (two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman) Tom Newberry in the second round. He was a better football player than I was."
However, after three years of limited playing time and injury woes with the Rams, things improved dramatically when then Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan signed Schad in 1989.


"I played five pre-season games, 16 (regular season) games and one playoff game (in 1989). I felt like I really accomplished something," Schad said.


Schad played four full seasons with the Eagles, earning one Sports Illustrated All-Star nomination, before injuries caught up to him.
He signed with the Cleveland Browns, but never played a game. Schad then came to the Canadian Football League for a season with the Ottawa Rough Riders before retiring.


"Two knee surgeries, a fractured back, three bicep ruptures. That's a career," said Schad, who played 62 NFL games, when making his retirement decision in 1996.


Schad earned close to $700,000 in his best year, which is chump change compared to what last year's 23rd overall pick is making (Green Bay offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga signed a five-year deal worth a reported $14.75 million before playing a down).
However, you won't find Schad complaining. Upon retirement, Schad attended teacher's college at Queen's, doing a placement at Loyalist Collegiate in Kingston.


Schad then returned to Philadelphia to do his Masters and coach linemen at Temple University. In Philly, he met his wife and eventually settled in a suburb in New Jersey, just a 25-minute drive from the City of Brotherly Love.
"I go to two or three Eagles games a year, eat chicken wings and drink beer," said Schad, who also has helped out at some Eagles youth camps.


Schad, who hopes to meet Watkins, believes the B.C. boy is in for a treat.
"They're incredible fans. They love their football," Schad said. "When he gets here, people are going to recognize him and want to buy him dinner or lunch. He'll get some promos, get a car deal, that's what happens."
Schad lived that dream and is grateful for the experience.
But there is no place like home. Schad was back in the Quinte region for Easter last week and also came to Kingston late last year for former Queen's teammate Bob Wright's funeral.
His ties to these parts remain tight.


"I wouldn't trade it for the world," Schad said. "I'm very happy with where it all started out. I was a Belleville-Hastings-Prince Edward County boy. I'd never tell my kids to go far away from home (for university). It's so easy to be close by and have all that support."