For the past three seasons, Mark Tauscher has been living a dream, a dream that almost every child growing up in the state of Wisconsin has dreamed before: playing football for the Green Bay Packers.
Chosen late in the seventh round of the 2000 NFL Draft, the former Wisconsin Badger had been passed over by just about every team in the league. And understandably so. In five seasons at Wisconsin, the former walk-on had been a starter only his senior year and had otherwise played little throughout his college career.
But maybe it was that evolution, from walk-on to a starting role, that should have been telling about the character of Mark Tauscher. Despite his late draft status, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound offensive tackle found the positive in the situation.
"When I got drafted as late as I did, I was a little upset but it ended up working out perfectly," Tauscher said. "It's a big deal when you grow up in this state and love football, the Packers are the thing. Everybody loves the Packers in the state of Wisconsin and it's a dream for all kids that like football."
As a rookie, Tauscher was thrust into the starting role when veteran tackle Earl Dotson was sidelined in the second game of the season with a herniated disk.
From there, Tauscher's dream began to take shape, and he took advantage of his opportunity. Through two seasons, Tauscher did not miss a game and had Packers coaches beaming with confidence about his abilities.
"In my opinion, they don't come any better than Tausch," said offensive line coach Larry Beightol. "I think Mark is a heck of a football player. That's what he is. I think that, somewhere along the line, people have not given him credit for his athletic ability -- and maybe it's because of his body type or his body size. But he's a terrific athlete."
But just into his third season, that dream would quickly turn into a nightmare. In the second game of the 2002 season, Tauscher sustained significant damage to his left knee when a New Orleans player fell into his leg at the end of a play. The injury, a significant tear to his medial collateral ligament and a 75-percent tear of his anterior cruciate ligament, would require two surgeries and several months of grueling rehabilitation to repair.
Reluctantly, Tauscher remembered the play that sidelined him.
"To be honest, I try not to think about it that often," he said. "It was just a normal drop-back pass. It was third down and a guy got cut and just fell perfectly into my leg and it kind of snapped everything."
For some, being forced from the job they love would be the perfect opportunity to feel sorry for oneself. For Tauscher, it was just another opportunity to fulfill a dream. This time, it was his mother's dream.
As a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, Tauscher received a bachelor's degree in history in 1999 and had begun work on a graduate degree while playing his final season for the Badgers.
After the injury, with only two classes remaining and a lot of time on his hands, Tauscher seized the opportunity and went back to school.
"My mom had been telling me ever since I was a rookie that I needed to finish that up because I was so close," said Tauscher. "And I said yeah, I'll do it, I'll do it, and two, three years passed. My advisor called me probably a month after my second surgery and said that now was probably the time to knock it out. It made sense. I was going to be here in the offseason anyway, so it made sense to go ahead and finish it up."
Life as a student, not a student-athlete, was something Tauscher had not yet experienced.
"It's a big difference to take classes when you're not playing football and your actual focus is there, because you have so much more time to deal with the readings and the other things. I probably learned a lot more in these two classes than I did a lot of the time that I was in school."
With a second degree in hand, Tauscher is back in football mode, continuing to rehab the knee, hoping to be ready to go by the time training camp arrives.
"It's easy to put percentages on everything, but I don't really want to do that," said Tauscher. "My progress is going good. Everything feels good. I'm doing everything that I need to do, but until I'm out there playing and back out there on the field, I won't really know. I'll know a lot better after a week into training camp."
What Tauscher does know is that his time away from the game has shed some light on what his post-football career may hold.
"When you step away from something for a while and then you get back into it, you see kind of what you're missing out on," the 26-year old said. "Teaching is something that I want to do, but not for a while, once my playing days are over with. There are so many great things in education, and there are so many flaws that go along with it and I would just like to get myself into the mix of it.
"You just see the big differences that education makes and it gives people a chance to jump out from where they are and it's become kind of a passion of mine. Getting back into these classes was great just to reinvigorate myself in that aspect of education."
With a master's degree in educational administration, Tauscher hopes to one day teach middle school history and eventually work his way into the administrative side, trying to make a difference in youngsters lives.
For now, Tauscher continues to focus on his return to football, hoping to make a difference in the upcoming 2003 season. With continued stellar play on the field, Tauscher could be on his way to legendary status in green and gold. But knowing him, it's in the classroom where Tauscher truly strives to be a legend, helping others fulfill their dreams.