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Marcus Sherels shows again just why he’s still with Vikings after all this time

December 17, 2018

He gets released every year. No, Marcus Sherels never actually hits the waiver wire. In perception.

The narrative before every Vikings training camp is that this will be the season that somebody takes his job. There’s always some rookie projected to push Sherels aside as the punt returner. And every year Sherels ends camp as the last man standing.

It’s become something of a running joke. The punchline: Only cockroaches and Marcus Sherels will exist when the world ends.

“People have told me that,” Sherels said. “I just laugh. It’s kind of funny.”

The NFL’s most underappreciated player keeps getting the last laugh. Sherels is in his ninth NFL season, tied with Everson Griffen as the longest-tenured players on the roster. Sherels has lasted nearly a decade because he remains one of the league’s most reliable punt returners and versatile special-teams players.

He showed his value again Sunday when he flipped field position with a 70-yard punt return at a tense moment in what became a 41-17 victory over Miami.

That marked Sherels’ 29th return of 20-plus yards since 2012, the most in the NFL in that span.

Sherels is the only active NFL player with at least 200 career punt returns and eight or fewer fumbles. He’s lost only two fumbles in 231 career returns. None since 2016.

That, more than anything, explains why he keeps a tight grip on his job.

“Turnovers are huge in the game as you can see around the league,” he said.

Returning punts isn’t a glamorous job. It requires looking skyward while 10 defenders make a full-throttle beeline to demolish you. Returners are either brave or wacko.

“I just try to go out there and make plays,” Sherels said.

That qualifies as a verbose answer for Sherels, who is more reserved and quiet than meditation class. He hates to talk about himself, so I enlisted the help of his older brother and biggest supporter, Mike, a former Gophers football captain and assistant coach.

He spilled the beans.

Apparently, his younger brother is frugal with his money, obsessed with gadgets that help his body recovery, spends down time watching Anime, has become quite good at Pickleball and still plans to enter law school after he retires from football.

In the offseason, Sherels hits the gym for 5 a.m. workouts five days a week. His house is filled with contraptions that work different body parts to aid recovery.

“He’s got one of those fancy massage chairs that you sit in at the mall,” Mike said. “He’s always got three or four different new massage things plugged in all around his house. He’s like, ‘Ah, you’ve got to try this one.’ You have to spread your arms out into this huge net and then manipulate it so it hits you in the back. The stuff is amazing. It feels awesome. I love going over there.”

Marcus constantly works on strengthening his hands. He squeezes a balloon filled with flour, and he bought another device that looks like a Dreamcatcher and provides resistance once his hand is inside.

That’s his idea of splurging. He rarely treats himself to big-ticket purchases.

“We always joke that he has an allowance like he’s still a 13-year-old,” Mike said.

His budget includes regular pizza parties for his nieces and nephews. Whenever Mike’s kids want to see their uncle, they call and ask him to host a pizza party.

“It works every time,” Mike said.

One of Marcus’ nieces composed a list of all the things that she’s thankful for. She wrote that she’s thankful for her uncle Marcus “because he’s good at ordering pizza.”

Mike’s two oldest children — Valerie (5) and Quinton (3) — attended their first Vikings game on Sunday. They sat in end zone seats closest to where their uncle almost scored on his 70-yard return.

Mike’s wife, Emily, told the kids, “Look, he’s trying to run to you guys.”

“Quinton was going nuts,” Mike said.

Marcus originally planned to start law school back in 2010 until the Vikings offered him a tryout. He still intends to become a lawyer. Or a professional Pickleball player. Kidding, but he loves it and has become a regular in pickup games in his hometown of Rochester during the summer.

“Marcus has pretty good range,” Mike said. “It’s really, really hard to find an open spot. You volley and hope that he makes a mistake. He’s competitive so that doesn’t happen very often.”

He doesn’t make many mistakes as a returner, either. That has allowed him to become the best punt returner in Vikings history and stick around longer than anyone expected.

“He takes care of his body, he hangs out with his family and he watches [Anime] cartoons,” Mike said. “That’s the secret to lasting 10 years in the NFL, I guess.”

Chip Scoggins • chip.scoggins@startribune.com

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