Marcus Sherels might be the most unassuming athlete in all of professional sports.
He’s built like a high school sophomore and quieter than a church mouse. Interviews make him queasy, especially if the subject is himself, which usually makes on-the-record conversations pointless.
Not that he’s rude or mean. In fact, just the opposite. He’s almost too nice.
He prefers to do his job as Vikings punt returner without fanfare or ego.
Sherels turned a long-shot ticket into a five-year NFL career with an understated approach. Since it’s virtually impossible to get him to say two words about himself, we tried a different tactic. We asked his teammates to give one word that describes Sherels.
In all, more than 40 players offered their insight, one word at a time.
“Underestimated,” Jerome Felton said.
Undrafted out of college, Sherels didn’t even receive a free-agent contract. He started on a tryout. He weighed 162 pounds at the time and got only two reps on the first day of the tryout. He decided to finish the weekend and then begin the process of entering law school. From that sprouted an NFL career.
“Determined,” Xavier Rhodes said.
“Determined,” Harrison Smith said.
Guys that start on a rookie tryout usually don’t last very long in the NFL.
“Consistent,” Josh Robinson said.
“Accountable,” Robert Blanton said.
“Reliable,” Blair Walsh said.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has a fondness for Sherels, in part, because he takes care of the ball. Sherels has lost only one fumble in 113 career punt returns and 99 fair catches.
“Tough,” Anthony Barr said.
“Heart,” Rhett Ellison said.
Sherels is listed at 5-10 and 175 pounds. Being a punt returner takes guts and a little craziness. Two years ago, a Washington gunner who outweighed Sherels by 60 pounds hit Sherels with such force that his helmet popped off and rolled downfield. The hit knocked Sherels 2 yards backward. He held onto the ball.
Sherels absorbed another punishing hit in the 2014 season opener in St. Louis. He flew 4 yards backward. The team’s medical staff helped him off the field, but Sherels refused to leave the game.
“Technician,” Andrew Sendejo said.
“Instinctive,” Christian Ponder said.
“Worker,” Chad Greenway said.
On defense, Sherels can play outside cornerback or in the slot/nickel role. He probably never will be a full-time starter at cornerback, but he finished second on the team in pass breakups last season when pressed into duty because of injuries.
“Elusive,” Cordarrelle Patterson said.
“Shifty,” Cullen Loeffler said.
“Explosive,” Linval Joseph said.
In 2010 against Detroit, a Lions player dived and hit Sherels’ legs as he caught a punt. Sherels stumbled but gathered himself. Four different Detroit players had a shot at him, but Sherels slipped away from each one and raced 77 yards for a touchdown.
“Playmaker,” Jarius Wright said.
“Phenomenal,” Jasper Brinkley said.
“Electric,” Greg Jennings said.
Sherels has two punt returns for touchdowns in his career. His return average (10.2) has dipped this season, but he set a Vikings record last season with a 15.2-yard average.
“Quick,” Adam Thielen said.
“Athletic,” Tom Johnson said.
“Explosive,” Captain Munnerlyn said.
Sherels was timed between 4.37 and 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his Gophers pro day. He posted a 40-inch vertical leap. He’s not very big, but he makes up for it by being fast and agile. He shares a team record with David Palmer with four punt returns of 50-plus yards.
“Quiet,” Brian Robison said.
“Quiet,” Sharrif Floyd said.
“Quiet,” Charlie Johnson said.
Predictably, this was a popular answer.
“Silent assassin,” Gerald Hodges said.
That’s two words, but yeah, we get the point.
“Subtle,” Michael Mauti said.
Mauti sits next to Sherels in the locker room. He said quiet is too obvious. Subtle fits him better, Mauti said.
“Talkative,” MarQueis Gray said.
The former Gopher (and now former Viking) laughed and walked away.
“Squirrelly,” John Sullivan said.
Not sure what that even means.
“Cat,” Matt Asiata said.
Hmm. Again, nothing.
“Sophisticated,” Matt Cassel said.
Sherels? Cassel smiled and nodded.
OK, so we gave Mr. Sophisticated the final word. Literally, the final word.
Sherels had heard about our poll from teammates and agreed to play along.
How would he describe himself?
“Determined,” he said.
And that was the end of the interview. Short and sweet.