The only observer not surprised Sunday night when Mike Sellers got the handoff from Mark Brunell and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run was watching the Washington Redskins’ game on television, three time zones and 3,000 miles away from FedEx Field.
“I knew what he was capable of doing in those situations,” Mike Levens said yesterday from his office at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.
Eleven years ago, Levens used Sellers — then a linebacker — in Walla Walla’s goal-line offense. Sunday night, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs used Sellers — an H-back/tight end-type — as a fullback. But instead of lead blocking for $50 million man Clinton Portis, Sellers took the handoff and lunged the ball over the goal line.
Levens can relate to Gibbs’ thinking on the play: An athletic, 6-foot-3, 278-pounder can bulldoze his way through a mass of bodies for a first down or touchdown.
Sellers’ first NFL rushing touchdown — on his second career carry — continued an unlikely season for the 30-year old. Before this year: 26 receptions and eight touchdowns in 70 games. This season: nine catches for 58 yards and four receiving touchdowns.
Sellers’ five touchdowns are tied with receiver Santana Moss for the team lead. Add his nine special teams tackles and it prompts coach Joe Gibbs to say, “He’s about as important to this football team as you can get.”
As Brunell joked: “Mike Sellers is becoming a star, especially in his own mind. All kidding aside, he’s been a huge boost to our offense, and nobody wants to cover him because if they cover him and he catches it, that means they have to tackle him.”
“Right now, I’m just trying to keep a level head and not think I’m better than what I am,” Sellers said. “I’ve been in the right spot at the right time quite a few times this year.”
Sellers calls his career “one big, great roller coaster ride,” and it includes one year of community college football, playing in the Canadian Football League as a teenager, an initial three-year tour with the Redskins (during which he was convicted for DUI), his release in Cleveland following an arrest for cocaine possession, two years back in the CFL with Winnipeg and, finally, a return to the Redskins.
A three-sport star at North Thurston (Wash.) High School, Sellers failed to sign up for the SAT exam on time, relegating him to Walla Walla Community College, located 150 miles from Spokane in the southeastern part of the state. With Walla Walla, Sellers was a junior college All-American at linebacker.
“He was bigger, stronger and faster than everybody,” Levens said.
Sellers left Walla Walla — which discontinued its football program in 1997 — after one season to return to the Tacoma, Wash., area and tend to his ill mother. Soon after, the Edmonton Eskimos contacted him, and when he joined the CFL team he was, at 19, the youngest player to sign a contract in league history.
In 1996, his second season with Edmonton, Sellers played 17 games as a defensive end. The next season, he had 27 tackles and one sack on defense and 40 rushes and five receptions on offense.
Spotted by the Redskins, Sellers played 45 games over three seasons, mostly as a blocking tight end, although he did have 18 catches and four touchdowns. Following the 2000 season, he signed a three-year contract with the Browns and started seven games. But his time in Cleveland ended when he and teammate Lamar Chapman were arrested on drug possession charges during a traffic stop. The charges were later dropped.
The damage was done, though. Made inactive the following game by coach Butch Davis, Sellers was released.
“I trusted a lot of people I shouldn’t have trusted,” Sellers said.
His reputation stained in the NFL, Sellers returned to Canada, this time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he became an offensive force. During the 2002 and 2003 seasons, he combined for 111 catches for 1,124 yards, 163 carries for 804 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“I felt if I played my football, hopefully somebody would see it,” he said. “My main mission was to get back to the NFL and do things right.”
Said Gibbs: “He’s been model since he’s been here. I can’t imagine him being in any kind of serious situation. He’s loving football and loving life. Maybe it’s been a growing up process for him.”
The roadblocks — some created by himself — encountered in the past 11 years have made this year’s successes more gratifying for Sellers.
“Technically, with the things that went on in my life, I shouldn’t be back in the NFL,” he said. “I relish every moment that I get and try to take full advantage of it.”