Talk about a very valuable player to have on the Vikings roster. Marcus Sherels has earned his spot on the team as a punt returner, special teams player and backup cornerback, despite being only 5-10 and 170 pounds and going undrafted out of the University of Minnesota.

His punt returning has been a welcome addition to the Vikings special teams. His 11 punt returns are tied for the eighth most in the NFL, his 15.2-yard average per return is seventh in the league, and his 167 return yards are fifth. His long return of 53 yards against the Lions in Week 3 is tied for the seventh-longest return in the NFL this season. Sherels has also recorded three solo tackles on special teams and also played on the nickel defense in the victory over Arizona last Sunday.

"He's hard-working. I know he's a bit undersized, but he doesn't play like it, and that's probably the best thing about him," said special teams coach Mike Priefer. "He's a courageous young man. I love having him on our football team.

"He can back up several different spots, but he starts on kickoff [coverage], he starts on the punt team, and he starts as our punt returner."

It's been an incredible ride for Sherels, who as a walk-on followed his brother Mike to the Gophers out of Rochester John Marshall High School. Sherels started his Gophers career as a wide receiver, played in only a couple of games, and was switched to cornerback as a sophomore in 2007 after coach Tim Brewster told him the team was thin at defensive back.

Looking back, Sherels said he believes playing receiver early in his career made him a better defensive back.

But Sherels' route to success in the pros is interesting. While he saw a lot of action as a punt returner his junior season, he returned only one punt, for 27 yards, his senior year of 2009.

In 2010, the Vikings gave Sherels a look at rookie minicamp. They thought enough of him to bring him to training camp, released him at the end of camp but brought him on to the practice squad on Oct. 13, a year ago Thursday. He was promoted to the active roster for the season finale at Detroit on Jan. 2.

Sherels then earned the punt return job in this year's training camp, and he has done nothing but improve with each week.

Good news on U baseball field

There is encouraging news over fundraising for a Gophers baseball field, with $6 million of the $7.5 million needed to start construction raised.

Former Gophers star Paul Molitor has been heading fundraising efforts for nearly a year. The Baseball Hall of Famer has been talking to fellow Cretin-Derham Hall product Joe Mauer about becoming a possible donor. The Mortenson Construction Co. that would build the stadium is another possibility. And Dick Ames, the big contractor and one of the biggest Gophers donors around, could contribute by doing some of the digging for the project.

Meanwhile, in the 2012 season, the Gophers are scheduled to play 39 of their 55 games at the Metrodome with 16 games on the road. That's after they couldn't play any games at the Metrodome earlier this year because of the roof collapse.


• Vikings Vice President Rick Spielman was on a scouting trip last week, and one of the teams he watched was Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is a cinch to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

• While new Vikings left tackle Charles Johnson has taken some criticism, the word is that the former Colts lineman is performing better than Bryant McKinnie did last year. Speaking about the offensive line that has been up and down this year, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said: "Our offensive line has done some good things for us as a whole. We really want to be a team that can dominate the line of scrimmage. At times we have been able to do that, but like so many parts of our football team, we've been very inconsistent. ... But collectively, they've done a good job."

• Cullen Loeffler, now in his eighth season as Vikings long snapper, has a new two-year contract at $1 million per season. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004, Loeffler now ranks with the best long snappers in the NFL.

• Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said on the hiring of new coach Rick Adelman: "We're really pleased. I've now had some time to spend with him after the interviews [at the introductory news conference] and I just like him more and more. He's everything that everyone else has said. He's a very seasoned person, very knowledgeable, and just kind of comes with a sense of confidence. I think that will be so good with our young players."

• Former Gophers defensive end Stylez G. White, who played this preseason with the Vikings after spending the past four years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has signed on with the Virginia Destroyers of the United Football League.

• Saturday was quite the night for the Kessel family. Phil Kessel, the 24-year-old former Gophers standout now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, had his third career NHL hat trick and his first with Toronto in a 6-5 victory over Ottawa. That same night, younger sister Amanda Kessel scored a true hat trick for the Gophers women's hockey team, scoring three second-period goals in a row in an 8-0 rout of St. Cloud State.

• After hitting two home runs Wednesday in the Tigers' 7-4 victory over the Rangers in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, left fielder Delmon Young has hit five home runs in eight postseason games with Detroit, one more homer than he hit in 84 regular-season games with the Twins this year. In six Division Series games in 2009 and '10 with the Twins, Young hit .208 with no homers or RBI.

• Former Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez, who scored the Division Series-winning run for the Brewers in Game 5 against the Diamondbacks, has played in only six of Milwaukee's nine playoff games. He has started twice, both against lefthanded starters: Arizona's Joe Saunders in Game 4 of the first round and St. Louis' Jaime Garcia in Game 1 of the NLCS. ... Also on the Brewers roster is former Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who has thrown 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief this postseason. It's Hawkins fourth trip to the playoffs in his 17-year career. After two trips to the playoffs with the Twins, he also went to the World Series in 2007 with Colorado.

• Former Twins infielder Nick Punto didn't start Game 4 of the NLCS after starting three of the Cardinals' previous four playoff games. His first start of this postseason came in St. Louis' 1-0 victory over Roy Halladay and the Phillies in Game 5 of the Division Series.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. •