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Being a Multi-Sport Youth Athlete Helped NFL Legend Mike Chalenski Reach the League

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Mike Chalenski played youth football in Kenilworth, New Jersey because that's what everyone did growing up. 

"It was a town thing to play youth football in the late '70s, early '80s," Chalenski said. "Everybody played. You played with all the kids in your neighborhood. It was what you did. And you developed a lot of bonds with the kids you grew up with from playing football with them."

Chalenski excelled as a multi-sport athlete. He was also a baseball and basketball star at David Brearley High School. And the one year he tried track and field, he set a New Jersey Group 1 state record in shot put.

If it wasn’t for a shoulder injury, Chalenski would have tried to play both football and baseball at UCLA. "They couldn’t guarantee me that I could still pitch and throw 95 miles per hour."

After UCLA, Chalenski played in the NFL as a defensive lineman from 1993 to 1998. He started his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, and had stints with the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions, appearing in 55 career games. 

Chalenski credits his high school coach, Bob Taylor, with instilling the lessons that helped him to the league.

"There are always coaches who stand out, and he did for me," Chalenski said. "He was just a great motivator."

After retiring, Chalenski tried to pass some of the same lessons on to his son, Mike Jr., when he started to play youth football.  

"There are so many more options for kids to do now," Chalenski said. "With my son, I wanted the decision to be his, because you have to want to play football. He came to me and said he wanted to play. And I was good with that."

As the coach of some of his son's first flag football teams, Chalenski shared what he learned as a young player. 

"That camaraderie that was there years ago still exists, and that teamwork that you learned then, you still use today," Chalenski said. "In football, nothing is given. Everything is earned. That’s one of the work ethics that we learned at a young age. You knew you had to work hard to achieve what you wanted to achieve."

Mike Jr. was a good wide receiver on the youth level, but in high school he turned his attention toward basketball. And that was fine with his father. 

“I think basketball is more his game," Chalenski said. "Playing multiple sports definitely did help me. Basketball, baseball, both helped me in my pro career. And it kept me well-rounded, too."

Photo: AP/Chuck Solomon


  • Youth Football
  • NFL Players and Legends
  • High School Football