One of the best stories in Minnesota football history got another season this week when the Vikings signed Marcus Sherels to a one-year deal.
Sherels will enter his ninth season with the Vikings, tying him as the second-longest-tenured player on the roster with defensive lineman Everson Griffen and behind defensive lineman Brian Robison, who will enter his 12th season with the Vikings.
What makes Sherels’ story so fantastic is that the former University of Minnesota walk-on and Rochester John Marshall graduate never seemed like a potential NFL player.
Nobody really wanted Sherels in college, or in the NFL, where he went undrafted in 2009 and then came to the Vikings’ rookie minicamp. He made the team but didn’t stick for long and was released, then he was brought back onto the practice squad and finally got called up for the final game of the 2010 regular season.
“I always try to stay positive and I stayed in shape and ready to go and they brought me back and I was happy,” Sherels said. “At the rookie minicamp I wasn’t even on the punt return list and I had to ask the coach and tell them, the special teams coordinator at the time, that I could return punts. He said, ‘Let’s see what you got.’ ”
To this day a lot of people in the Sherels family get nervous when Marcus gets ready to return a punt or a kick. His sister Kanysha Sherels told City Pages in 2015 that whenever a punt goes to Marcus that, “I close my eyes and I get really nervous.”
But so far, Sherels hasn’t had any issues being a great returner in the NFL, and he’ll have another year to prove that with the Vikings in 2018.
Sherels started his career with the Gophers as a wide receiver before moving to the defensive side of the ball.
“I played a little bit my freshman year because I didn’t redshirt and then my sophomore year I played a little bit more,” Sherels said last season. “My junior and senior year I played corner and I was one of the starters at corner my last two years.”
Incredibly, Sherels had just 15 punt returns in his entire career with the Gophers, which is how he would make his name in the pros.
“It was fun, a lot of fun,” Sherels said of his rookie career. “The coaches did a good job of helping me learn and my teammates did a good job, as well.”
Still there is no question that when Sherels left the University of Minnesota not many people thought he would have this kind of career.
The best in the game
Sherels’ success and ability to stick with the Vikings since 2010, including several seasons when he had to earn his way onto the 53-man roster without a guaranteed contract, is no fluke.
From 2011 to 2017 Sherels has been the best punt returner in the NFL. He has 2,171 return yards in that span, the most in the NFL and right in front of Ted Ginn, who was drafted at No. 9 overall in 2007 and has 1,967 return yards. Sherels’ five return touchdowns are tied with Darren Sproles, a fourth-round pick in 2005, for the most in the NFL over that stretch.
“It’s fun. It’s an important job,” Sherels said of returning. “The key is to get good field position for the offense, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Sherels said that the special teams coaches have done a good job of preparing not only him but the whole unit.
“Coach Prief [special teams coach Mike Priefer] and Coach Fick [assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken] do a great job of getting all the guys, including myself, ready to go, and the blockers do a great job of making my job easy,” he said.
Yes, Sherels is always one to share the credit for his success with others, but there is no doubt that the second-longest-tenured Viking on the roster in 2018 will have earned every year of his career in purple.
Green ready to lead
Gophers quarterback Seth Green recently earned a great title when he was named the vice chairman of the National Panhellenic Council at the University of Minnesota.
Green, a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, has been working more and more on his leadership, and head coach P.J. Fleck said that included attending a recent leadership conference.
“He just got back from a leadership conference where him and Winston [DeLattiboudere] went out to a big leadership conference and took a lot away from that. He has really done a great job with that,” Fleck said.
It will be interesting to see if Green doesn’t win the starting quarterback job, and right now Fleck says the competition is wide open, whether he will be moved to another position.
“He is such a good athlete that I have talked with him that if he doesn’t win the position about possibly playing somewhere else, playing another position, whether that’s wide receiver or tight end or linebacker or rush end,” Fleck said. “He’s a very good athlete and he has been very mature about the whole process.”
Green played his senior year of high school in Allen, Texas, after attending East Ridge and committed to Oregon before joining the Gophers.
• Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said that one of the things that has propelled his career is being undervalued. “I have always felt a little bit underrated, a little bit overlooked. If you go back and research my story, that’s certainly an element there. So as a result, there is a fire there.”
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer echoed Cousins’ thoughts, saying: “One of the other things I like about him is he is a guy that has always had to prove himself. He’s a lot like a lot of our football team, guys that come in here, work hard. He bet on himself several times and won.”
• Jalen Suggs of Minnehaha Academy averaged 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game this season as a sophomore for the Class 2A state champion basketball team while throwing for 1,195 yards and 15 touchdowns against three interceptions as a quarterback for the football team. Word is Suggs may still want to play college football despite being a five-star basketball player.
• It will be a new format this year for the Gophers’ spring football game, since the team has a fully healthy roster. The U announced that Team Maroon, coached by offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and captained by linebacker Thomas Barber, will face Team Gold, coached by defensive coordinator Robb Smith and captained by running back Rodney Smith, at noon on April 14 at TCF Bank Stadium.
• Former Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith was named the coach at High Point, his alma mater, two weeks after being fired after two seasons at Memphis. Smith is now the only men’s coach to lead seven Division I programs.
• While Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III has announced he will turn pro, former Apple Valley standout Gary Trent Jr. has not revealed a decision. NBADraft.net has Trent going 16th overall to Phoenix in its most recent mock draft, but ESPN lands him as a second-round prospect.