"It all depends where you are as a rookie. (Mat) Mendenhall will get at least a year, probably two, to show something because of the money they invested in him. A free agent may only have one day." -- Greg Dubinetz, OG He always wanted to be a football player. Football, he guesses, is in his blood. He came from a small town in Texas and went to college on a football scholarship. He majored in physical education because he couldn't play football he wanted to coach football. He lacks 30 credits towards his degree. fNot that graduating matters right now, not while he has a chance to play. He has no distractions. No wife. No kids. No politics. No hobbies. To relax he neither reads nor studies. He prefers something physical. Lately, it's pinball. He says it has a hold on him. He is not here to have a good time. If he wanted a good time he'd have gotten a day job and hung around a bar at night. He is here to make the team. gIt is his only goal. Football is his life. He has good size, good speed and a great attitude. Very coachable. All his coaches, in college and in camp, says he is the kind of young man you want on your team; you wish every young man had his attitude. Attitude-wise, they say, he is some kind of young man. He does not quit. He will not quit. He doesn't know the meaning of the word, quit. His name is Mike Matocha. He is 22 years old. He is the 11th round draft pick of the Washington Redskins. Every year there are 100 just like him in the National Football League. Like so many others, all you can say about him is that he's got a shot. Day One: Late draft picks, free agents and marginal veterans have one week to impress the coaches before the established veterans arrive. One week to write their names on the cluttered page of a pro football roster. No one kids himself about the reality. So many numbers. So little time. There is an Arabic saying -- The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. The Eagles have a lyric -- Everybody's talkin' 'bout the new kid in town/They will never forget you till somebody new comes along. Just one week. Starting now. Mike Matocha already has run the required 1 1/2 miles faster than any other defensive line rookie or free agent; he had the second-highest weight-lift total of all those in the same group; his time today in the 40-yard spring, 5.07 was a step slower than he'd wanted, but certainly acceptable. Vital signs were good. For the past eight weeks he'd worked out at Redskin Park in Virginia, and the coaches were pleased. On this first day of training camp he stood 6-foot-4 and he weighed 246. The 246 was significant. He was 205 as a freshman in college, 230 as a senior. There hadn't been much interest in him before the draft because most pro scouts felt he was too slow to project at linebacker and too light to remain a defensive end, his natural position. "His history was that he couldn't put on weight," said Bobby Beathard, the elfin general manager of the Redskins. "We liked his speed and his frame, and we took a calculated gamble he could get big." (Too thin. "He ate and ate and ate and he could never put it on. Never saw anything like it," said Josie Matocha, Mike's mother. Some problem, huh? We should all have such a problem.) Since signing a two-year contract with the Redskins, Matocha had been on an antidiet. Check it out, sports fans. "I told him to drink between three and six cans of beer a day," said Bubba Tyler, the team trainer. "I told him to eat as much as he could. Big meals. Then, before he went to bed, another meal -- all the things you'd tell someone on a diet to avoid. So, here he was, 6-4 and 246. Yet compared to some others in camp Matocha actually looked small. Until you stand among a group of professional football linemen you cannot appreciate the enormity of their size. "Huge" does not do them justice. Tom Milanovich's chest was so big, it was in a different time zone from his heels. So great was the definition of Neal Olkewicz's back that a giant condor could build a nest between his shoulder blades. We're talking big people, BIG people. "I hope so," said Jack Pardee, the head coach. "And you ain' seen nothin' yet.," said Charlie Taylor, a publicity man. "Wait til the veterans come in." Of the few veterans in camp, the most notable was Joe Theismann, Captain Dialogue, the Tommy John of pro-football. On this first day of camp Kim McQuilken, Theismann's backup, was sunning himself on the practice field when Theismann arrived, talking to reporters, fans, grounds crew, squirrels, anyone, everyone. Spotting McQuilken lying on a towel, Theismann bellowed, "What is this? We training at Laguna Beach? If you'd told me, I'd have brought a cooler." McQuilken yelled back, "you lie in the sun with me and you won't need all that bleach you're using lately." Both laughed and were later seen huddled together, fast friends, speaking quarterbacks. The distinction between veteran and rookie is obvious and meant to be. Veterans dress in a different locker room from rookies. Equally but separate. A psychological game is being played -- status is a carrot on a stick, reinforced by the tradition of veterans not talking to rookies. What a rookie holds second-most dear -- first is acceptance by the coaches -- is acceptance by the veterans."It's a good sign if the veterans buddy up to you after a couple of weeks," said Olkewicz. "They know who the players are. They won't waste time with people who are going to be cut." Being cut is to be avoided at all costs. So is doing anything that might lead to being cut. A rookie wants to stay anonymous everywhere but out on the field. There, he does his exercises enthusiastically. He volunteers. He says nothing about the depersonalization of the practice dress, the uniform of white shirt, white shorts, white socks so that the team looks like refugees from Santa Gloria Hospital for the Amazingly Large. Off the field he never is late for meals, never late for meetings. He is so agreeable; a rookie cannot expect a second chance. Mike Matocha: "I came to Washington as soon as I could after the draft. I got an apartment with Dan Peiffer, who's in camp as a free agent, in Reston and started working out at Redskin Park. I wanted to try to fit in as much as possible as quick as possible. My sole purpose here is to make this club and contribute anyway I can. Everyone has something they can do well. Mine is, I'll keep coming. I'll keep doing the right things until I find a spot on this team. I know there are 90 players here, and by the end of camp there will be 45. The ax is gonna swing. It's gonna get somebody. If I'm good enough to be here, I will be. If I'm not, then I won't. But I've heard I'm not good enough all my life. I was 205 as a freshman in college and the guys on the team laughed at me. Now, I know some people are saying I'm not good enough to play pro. See, I've been proving people wrong all my life. I guess I have to do it one more time." Mike Matocha . . . 11th round pick . . . defensive end . . . University of Texas at Arlington, same school that has produced Dexter Bussey (Detroit Lions) and Derrick Jensen (Oakland Raiders . . . played on same high school team, LaGrange High, as Johnny Johnson (first round by Los Angeles Rams, 1980). . . LaGrange, 70 miles southeast of Austin, famous as home of Chicken Ranch in Texas" . . . led Texas-Arlington with nine sacks in senior year . . . scouted by Dick Daniels, who originally came to practice to see another player, a linebacker . . . impressed so much by Matocha that he came back twice more just to see him . . . Texas Arlington Coach Bud Elliott said of Matocha, "He'll do just as the coaches ask, and he'll keep on coming. He'll never give up" . . . not highly recruited out of high school . . offered scholarships to Adams State (Colorado) and Texas Lutheran . . . a sleeper. "I broke my thumb in my junior year and didn't play a whole lot. I figured I had no chance for the pros, so I'd play out my senior year and that would be it. Then, after the third game of my senior year a scout from Detroit came and talked to me. At first I figured he didn't have anyone else to talk to, so he talked to me. But then I started thinking maybe I had a chance. Then, Dickie Daniels came and worked me out. But I knew I wasn't gonna go high if I went at all, so the first day of the draft I didn't expect anything. Second day, I sat and waited. I thought maybe I'd go on the 12th round, last pick somewhere. "Finally I got a call from Dickie, and he said, 'Mike, we're considering drafting you.' He asked me how much did I weigh? I said '235.' He asked, 'How soon can you be 240?' I said, 'Real soon.' I figured the Redskins were down to their last pick. So he got back and said, 'Mike, we got you on the 11th round. And Mike, we're bringing you up here for one reason -- to make the club. "I said, 'Well, I don't expect anything different.'" "Last year when I was a free agent I only brought enough clothes to last me a week. The late draftee feels the same as a free agent -- you've got to go out there like every day is your last, you've got to force somebody to recognize you." -- Neal Olkewicz, LB Day Two: Last day before two-a-days and contact. Last day without pain. Pardee gave the players the morning off, which meant they had free time in Carlisle. Big deal. There was a first-run movie in town, "Rough Cut." (Later on, the title might prove ironic.) We mention this only because Carlisle usually has a last-run movie. Like, "Bambi." Or, "Bambi Visits Disneyland." Or, "Bambi and George Allen Look At Game Films Until Bambi Gets Bored and Goes To The Gingerbread Man For A Few Beers." That's where you can find Redskins when there's free time, at The Gingerbred Man. Matocha plays pinball there; Space Invaders, because it's the most challenging. Jack Kent Cooke, the majority shareholder of the Redskins since 1974, made his first-ever appearance in Carlisle. He and a friend sat under a hot sun for almost three hours watching practice. An impressive rookie debut for Cooke, who did not, however, run the required 1 1/2 mile. Matocha never saw Cooke. Matocha (It's Ma-TO-ka. Czechoslovakian in origin. He says there are a lot of Germans and Czechs in his part of Texas. "Real beer drinkers and sausage eaters.") was far too busy practicing to notice who was sitting on the sidelines. While the rest of the squad assembled at the middle of the practice field to go through running and passing plays, the offensive and defensive linemen were off in their corners in small groups. The coach in charge of Matocha's group was Doc Urich, defensive coordinator and line coach. Urich came to training camp pleasantly predisposed to Matocha, who had impressed him in minicamp. "I like his movement and speed and strength," Urich said. "We need help at defensive end, and, you know, it's just a gut feeling, but I get the sense that he may be a real hitter. It's in the eyes. Some guys just have that p--- and vinegar in their eyes." Urich shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "But, who the hell knows til you put the pads on?" Before contact it's all so ephermeral. An instinct here. An impression there. Tiny bubbles rushing for the top floor of a glass of club soda, swimming for a split second then bursting with pride into nothingness. Disappearing forever. Are you sure they were there? Or was it an illusion. d Pardee: "He's got a good shot." Beathard: "Defensive line is our top need. I think he's got a good chance to help us." Daniels: "He might be a heck of a player." These statements reflect the optimism of the drafting process. No team, least of all the Redskins in the aftermath of George Allen, wants to waste a draft pick. To do so is to admit sloppy organization, a crime in football even worse than not wearing your formal cleats to the Friday night special-teams meeting. "He's got a good shot" is one of the all-time say-everything, say-nothing throwaways. All draftees have a shot. All free agents have a shot. The tantalizing truth is that in pro football, with 45 men on a roster, injured reserve and an alarming injury ratio -- everyone has a shot. That's what makes a pro football training camp so nervewracking. It's not like basketball, where no-cut contracts can sometimes mean that only your No. 1 pick has a shot. It's not like baseball, where everyone knows going in what the club needs and who is going to fill those needs. At least one half of all pro football draftees are on NFL rosters by the end of the year. Everyone has a shot. It's not just talk. And up on the wall of the clubhouse and the dorm, posted in chilling print for all to see are the numbers -- by Aug. 19 . . . 60; by Aug. 26 . . . 50; by Sept. 1 . . . 45. The cut-down dates. Irrevocable.Terrifying. "Everyone plays the numbers game," said Dan Peiffer, a free-agent hopeful at center who played for Pardee at Florida in the WFL and at Chicago in the NFL. "You study that roster and try to figure who you need to beat out to stick around. No one who comes to camp the first week can feel secure. It's just impossible." This week the motivation is fear. Fear because there's no little time. Fear because everyone has a shot. Fear because one little thing -- a tick of the clock in the 40, a dumb, blank stare in a meeting, a mistake in coverage repeated once too often -- can make the difference between staying and going. "You always wonder what the coaches are thinking," said Olkewicz. "When they talk to you, you analyze every word they use and look for a sign. When they talk to your competitors, you try to figure out what they might have said. You get real nervous." But you can't admit to fear. To admit to fear -- even though you've got it and everyone around you has it -- would show weakness, and more than anything else you fear showing weakness. Gray skies are gonna clear up/Put on a happy face/Brush off those clouds and cheer up/Put on a happy face. "Fear?" Matocha said. "No, I don't feel any fear. Fear isn't it. It's respect. These people in camp, they're good." Matocha is a big, strong, handsome kid whose wire-rim glasses give him that cerebral look we have come to associate with Penn State linebackers. He is the second of three children; there is a married older sister and a younger brother, a freshman football player at Southwest Texas State. His father is a route distributor for Royal Crown Cola and his mother is a housewife. Neither has ever been on an airplane. No one in the family has a particular sense of Washington. "All I can say," Matocha said, "is when you get into trouble in Texas, they call the police. And when you get in trouble in Washington, they call the FBI." In the two months Matocha has spent in Washington he has seen little because he has concentrated on football. He has been to The Mall and to Georgetown, but that's about it. When you ask him what he knows about Washington, he says, "Good team, good coaches, playoff bound." It reminds you of the story of the basketball team that toured Europe for one month. When they got back someone asked one of the members -- "How was Europe?" And the player said -- "Bad. We lost." Ahh, perspective. "My sole purpose here is to make the team," Matocha said. (Just once you'd like to hear something new. Like, "My goal is to make enough useful contacts among huge people so that when I became a loanshark I'll have plenty of muscle at my disposal." Or, "Football's nice, but what I really want is to open up a chain of coin-operated laundromats." Or, "I have a tremendous sense of ambivalence about what I'm doing here. On one hand, I wholeheartedly endorse the Mahatma Ghandi concept of passive resistance. On the other hand, I flat out like to stomp people.") Mike Matocha: "I just like to do what I'm supposed to do. I don't like that Hollywood image. I don't like people who advertise themselves. And one thing I hate is cockiness, because I know right around the corner is someone bigger and better than you who's ready to knock you out of your jock . . . I'm not a slow learner. I listen well, and I've been told Coach Pardee likes smart players. Right now I feel pretty good. I think I'm doing comparable with all the other defensive line people. But I still have a long way to go. When we put on the pads, that'll be the real test. Tommorow." . . . You're only a day away.