Ram Camp : Schad May Have Last Laugh on Detractors

Times Staff Writer

Mike Schad might logically have given up at least twice in his life.

During his sophomore year at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, he enrolled in a sociology class that nearly broke him.

In fact, Schad's first test score was so low that the professor suggested he drop the class.

"I told him it was a little late to tell me that," Schad remembered.

Schad hung in there, finished the course and got out with a B-minus. A good sociology lesson.

Then last August, during training camp, Ram veterans and free agents alike lined up around the block to get a shot at Schad, the Canadian curiosity who was the team's first-round draft pick and allegedly the offensive tackle of the future.

It quickly turned out to be Schad, as in bad and we've been had.

Schad quickly faded from the headlines to the comfort of the injured-reserve list, where he spent the entire season with a back injury.

But he vowed to return.

"I'm not the type of guy to give up," he said.

Well, Schad is back, and he's sporting a new look. The man the Rams drafted as a tackle is now a guard. He is 20 pounds lighter and, he says, a great deal wiser.

Mike Schad may make it in the NFL after all.

"The concern was whether we had made a colossal error," Coach John Robinson said recently. "I'm now convinced we haven't."

The Rams are hoping Schad's first season was just one bad sociology test.

The team all along viewed Schad as a project, a player they could eventually mold into a solid NFL player, given enough time.

Unfortunately, time waits for no first-round draft choice.

"People expect first-round players to play right away," Schad said. "I mean, what do you say, 'No, I don't want to be a first rounder!'? The coaches knew it would take time. But I didn't come along as fast as people wanted me to."

Schad was doomed almost from the beginning, since he held out for three weeks before signing. It might as well have been three years, considering he was coming from a college program that wasn't exactly Ohio State when it came to teaching fundamentals.

Schad needed the practice time more than anyone and suffered to the point of exhaustion and depression.

"There were a lot of low moments," he said. "I knew it was going to be rough after two days. I mean real rough. Everything was different--the technique, the concentration, the intensity, the caliber of player."

Worse, he could read of his failures in daily newspaper accounts.

"I didn't know you guys were a bunch of vultures," Schad said of reporters. "You picked me apart. I was a star when I was drafted, but by the time the season started I was a bum. Now, I'm kind of holding my own. I'm not a bum anymore. But is Mike Schad different than he was a year ago? Of course, I'm more experienced, but is he a different guy?"

Schad said it got to the point that he stopped newspaper deliveries to his home.

"The media saw what they saw," he said. "But you didn't know what I had gone through, from high school to college, and then from college to the pros. That was a huge step. No one knew my background. Only people that know me know what I did to get here."

It was a lonely time for Schad. At times he felt ostracized by his teammates.

"Our offensive line plays at such a high level," he said. "To get to that level takes hard work. To be part of that group, you've got to be at that level. . . . I was just a guy on IR. I was not considered part of the team. I felt that. I sensed some envy and resentment, but I don't think about that now."

Schad, for many reasons, was hopelessly lost at left tackle. Thrown into perhaps the most difficult of all the line positions--the one that must protect the quarterback from being blind-sided by defensive ends--Schad failed.

But the move may have saved a career. With his size, 6 feet 5 inches and 280 pounds, Schad has become an effective run blocker. He looked good in the team's exhibition win over the Denver Broncos in London, making some key blocks in one long third-quarter touchdown drive.

"That was the first time I've really got to play football since college," Schad said.

His pass blocking still needs work and it may be some time before he becomes a starter, but consider that last year the Rams were wondering if he'd ever become anything more than a mistake.

"I think he's going to be a starter in the NFL," Robinson said. "He'll be a successful player for us soon. I don't know how soon. Obviously, he won't be a starter this season unless there's an injury or something."

Schad is preparing himself for success on his schedule, not on one set by those who analyze draft picks for a living.

Instead, he's made a point of absorbing everything All-Pro guard Dennis Harrah says and does.

"I have a mental picture," Schad said. "I see a guy in a white shirt with the No. 60 (Harrah's number). I've seen him so many times on film that that's the picture I see. I view it as that's how the job's done. It's like opening a textbook and seeing the anatomy of a stomach. You say that's how it's supposed to look."

Of course, for Schad it will mean time, discipline and good study habits. Those things worked once in a sociology course.

Schad doesn't consider the alternative, which is failure.

"I wouldn't want to live with that the rest of my life."

Efforts to resolve Eric Dickerson's paternity suit in a preliminary hearing failed Tuesday, and the case will now go to full trial this morning at 9 a.m. before Judge James G. Kolts in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Dickerson is being sued by former girlfriend, Rea Ann Silva, who is seeking $7,500 in support for her unborn child, allegedly fathered by Dickerson.

The parties on Tuesday tried to settle the case through a mediator, but when that failed, a court date was set.

"I feel good faith efforts were made by both parties," Dickerson's lawyer, Fred Glassman, said. "But sometimes it just breaks down, just like anything else."

Glassman said the case should be resolved today. It also means that Dickerson will miss his second day of practice.

The case is closed to the public.

Ram linebacker Carl Ekern will undergo arthroscopic surgery today to repair torn ligaments in his right knee and will be out four to six weeks, the team announced Tuesday night.

Ekern injured the knee in last Thursday's 23-14 exhibition win over the Seattle Seahawks. The injury was first reported to be a hyper-extension of the knee, but new X-rays taken Tuesday revealed a ligament tear.

Surgery will be performed by Dr. Clarence Shields at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood.

Ekern is the second starting linebacker to undergo surgery this week. Mark Jerue also injured a knee in the Seattle game and had surgery last Friday. He's expected to be out until October.

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