A 42-tackle, four-sack senior season at UCLA helped get Mike Chalenski noticed by NFL teams. But pulling a leg muscle in the days leading up to the NFL Combine limited what he could do, and dampened the attention, which led to him not being chosen in the 1993 NFL Draft.
And although he wasn't picked, he was certainly popular with team scouts who had seen him play when they were looking to sign promising rookie free agents.
"I worked out for a bunch of teams when they came out, and there was a defensive line coach with the Eagles at the time, Dale Haupt," Chalenski says. "And I don't know, I kind of liked him. And also, too, if you looked at Philadelphia, they had such a great reputation for their defenses back then. You know, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Andre Waters, Reggie White.
"I got a call from pretty much every team in the NFL. And I actually took less money to go to Philly because I just liked the coach and the scheme and the City of Philadelphia. Plus, growing up in North Jersey (Kenilworth), it's not that far."
Besides being close to home, another advantage Chalenski had during his first Training Camp was the opportunity to learn from veterans who were willing to show him the ropes.
"One that sticks out in my mind was Keith Millard. He was an All-Pro defensive lineman, someone who I actually saw play when I was a kid," Chalenski says. "It was kind of really cool to play with somebody and learn from a pro's pro that had been around like that and knew what to do.
"I knew that I had to go up and beyond to get noticed, get some playing time, and then once I did get in there, like the old saying goes, once your name's called, you'd better do something. So I was always ready to go in there and make a play. And I knew I was making plays, but then, still, at the end of the day, you really don't know if you made the team or not.
"And I would say, I didn't realize that I made it until the final day of cuts when you make it through the first round and then you've got the second round. They used to call it the gauntlet. I just held my breath going through it, hoping I would make my way into the locker room."
Having led the Eagles with 3.5 sacks during the preseason, Chalenski was one of three rookie free agents who found the locker room's door open and made the team.
And after contributing on special teams and as an extra pass rusher during his rookie season, Chalenski's second year was cut short before it began when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Training Camp.
"I had the exact same injury that Randall (Cunningham) had (in 1994). It was the PCL, MCL, meniscus. They used to call it the 'terrible triad,'" Chalenski says. "I went and had that repaired, and God-willing, somebody was looking down over me. I was able to come back and make the team after coming back from what could have been a devastating injury."
When Chalenski came back for the 1995 season, the Eagles had a new head coach, Ray Rhodes, who was replacing Rich Kotite.
"In '94, I tore my knee up, so I missed the season. And I was actually slated as a potential starter that year," Chalenski says. "Anytime you get an injury there's a lot of uncertainty. Plus, when a new head coach comes in, there's even more uncertainty. So it was almost like in the same boat.
"I was like, OK, a new head coach, I'm coming off a knee, and that's when they drafted Mike Mamula in the first round, too, a defensive end. That's when I was like, 'OK, the writing may be on the wall here.'
"And then they came to me and said, 'Hey, we're going to run a different scheme. You might be better suited to play tackle.' I was like, 'Alright, I'll play anywhere. Just give me a shot.' And they gave me a shot, and I ended up sticking around."
With Philadelphia for the first half of his six-year NFL career, Chalenski went on to spend one season each with the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and Detroit Lions. Was there anything that set Eagle fans apart from those others?
"Philadelphia's one of those cities, I have to tell you," Chalenski laughed. "They wear their emotions on their sleeves. They tell you you stink when you stink. They tell you you're good if you do good. They'll love you one play and hate you the next play. So it really is a great sports city when you look at it.
"The New York Jets, they have some very passionate fans, too. But when you look at the organization, I would say Philadelphia's kind of one of those places that you know you'd better perform or don't read the papers or listen to WIP the next day."
In 1999, one year after leaving the game, Chalenski founded Comprehensive Screening Solutions, an employment screening company in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, which he grew into a successful business.
"I think, like anything, when you're an athlete, you're always looking for a competitive advantage and something that's out there to separate you from the other people. Similar to what I had to do when I was a free agent, to get noticed," Chalenski says. "There's God-given talent and then there's also another element to it, where you have to kind of almost study your opponent to see who your competitors are, what they do, how you can do it better. And then it's just like building a team, you have to recruit talented people to work within the business."
Just months ago, Chalenski's business went through a merger and he retired. Well, sort of.
"Right now, what I'm doing, my son's really big into motocross, so I'm spending some time with him. Something you couldn't do when you're either playing or in the business because it's a grinding thing," Chalenski says. "And then the competitor in you is always looking for the next adventure, so you don't lose that spirit. So I've got some feelers out there to see what the next chapter will hold.
"It's kind of like, once you're out of the game for a little bit, you look around and say, 'I need that kind of competitiveness.' Whether it's athletics, whether it's business, whether it's helping my son with his motocross, the competitive spirit doesn't die even after you retire. So you just channel that same drive, desire, and the work ethic that was instilled in you to do that in another field. I'm basically exploring options."
Chalenski and his wife, Heather, have two children – Brianna, a student at Rowan University studying physical therapy, and Mike Jr., who is in high school.