Al Chesley grew up in Northeast Washington, a few blocks from RFK Stadium. Occasionally, he goes home and walks the streets, looking for old friends, former teammates from his all-Metropolitan days as a three-sport athlete at Eastern High School.
Chesley says that most of his energy these days is being spent preparing for a football game on Sunday -- the Super Bowl. He is a reserve linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles, a 23-year-old special-teamer who will play on defense only if Bill Bergey or Frank LeMaster are injured. But today, Chesley took a few minutes to look into his past, trying to explain how and why he made it, while so many of his old high school friends did not.
"I go home to visit my family, and I see so many guys I used to play with just out on the street," Chesley said. "A lot of them were great athletes, great players, but something happened. Who knows what? So much wasted talent out there on the street. It just makes you sad to think about it."
So how did Al Chesley, one of nine children, avoid a similar fate?
"I ask myself that all the time," he says, "and I have to give a lot of the credit to my parents. They were strict with us. I didn't stop checking in with them until after I went away to college. We didn't have a lot of money, and sometimes we had to wait a little longer for the things we needed, but we usually got them.
"My older brothers were great athletes, and that helped, too. As a kid, I tried to follow their example. My parents always knew where to find me. I'd be at the Eastern Branch Boys Club, some baseball diamond around the city. Hard to get in much trouble there."
Just like his brothers, Chesley went to Eastern High. His coach there, Ernest Johnson, convinced him he was natural linebacker, and started him as a sophomore. He also was a skilled enough outfielder to merit being drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of high school.
But Chesley chose instead to accept a scholarship at Pittsburgh. "When I went there, I weighed 190 pounds," he recalls now. "The first time I went to the weight room, I could hardly even lift the bar you're supposed to put the weights on."
By his sophomore year, however, Chesley was a starting linebacker on a national championship team, and when he graduated, he was everything the pros were looking for from the head down -- 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. There was one problem, however.
"Every time a scout would ask me to run for them, I wouldn't do it," Chesley said. "I didn't like the idea of being treated like a piece of meat. cA scout would come by and say 'strip down, we want to time you, we want to weigh you.' I didn't do it. I had the attitude that they could decide by my performance on the field. They had the film. They could see what I could do."
And so, the pros nearly passed him by. He finally was drafted in the 11th round by the Eagles, and the team he wanted to play for more than anyone else -- the Redskins -- never expressed any interest at all.
"Basically, it was a stupid thing to do," he says. "Let's face it, this is a business, and they made a business decision on me. But it just made me work that much harder to make it when I finally did get the chance."
In his first training camp, Chesley immediately began living up to his reputation as The Hit Man, his nickname at Pittsburgh. "I knew I was going to make the team from the first day I got there," he says now. "I don't want that to come out wrong, though. I just knew I could play with these guys." And he has been playing ever since.
It's not as if he doesn't like the old neighborhood, but every time Al Chesley walks the streets, he says he is reminded about "how lucky I really am."