If the cameras are rolling at Redskin Park and a player is talking, chances are fullback Mike Sellers is jumping into the picture, making faces at his teammate or tickling the camera operator.
Cornerback Fred Smoot is the most outrageous quote and receiver Antwaan Randle El is the loudest denizen of the locker room, but Sellers is the No. 1 clown.
To Sellers, just being with the Redskins is a celebration.
“I appreciate what I have leaps and bounds more than I did the first time I was here,” said Sellers, who didn’t make much of an impression when he first played for the Redskins from 1998 to 2000 after two years in junior college and two more in the Canadian Football League. “It’s like the old saying: You really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I’m totally happy. I don’t think I would want to play anywhere else.”
The change in attitude followed the darkest chapter in Sellers’ 32 years.
Sellers and Cleveland Browns teammate Lamar Chapman were arrested Nov. 19, 2001, and charged with possession of cocaine. Sellers had been speeding and swerving when police stopped him. They found marijuana and a white powder believed to be cocaine in the truck.
The Browns said they would wait for the legal process to play out before deciding Sellers’ fate, but they instead cut him just a week later. Sellers, who left the Redskins as a restricted free agent for a three-year, $2.4 million contract with the Browns, was devastated, especially after the charges were dropped.
“I matured really, really late,” said the 6-foot-3, 284-pound Sellers, who — with his eight tattoos, shaved head and dyed blond goatee — looks menacing until he breaks into a typical grin. “Back then, I was all about making money and going out partying. What happened made me realize that I’m not above anybody, that I can’t do everything that I want. [That] I got blamed for something that I had nothing to do with made it even worse. The person I lived with never fessed up [to ownership of the drugs] until it came to court, but I had already lost my job.”
Sellers headed back to the CFL for two years. In February 2004, Sellers was approaching his 29th birthday and had been out of the NFL for more than two years. Then the Redskins called and asked him to return. Coach Joe Gibbs and running backs coach Earnest Byner had both just returned to Washington and had done their research on Sellers, who they thought would be a powerful H-back.
“I talked to a few people in Cleveland,” Byner said. “They gave us some of the ins and outs with Mike and some of the things to look for. The thing I emphasized to Mike when he got in the room was becoming mentally stronger. He has really taken to that and also taken to leadership. Mike has grown a heck of a lot in the last two years as far as his accountability and holding the other guys accountable as well. Mike has really learned his lessons from being through some tough times. He takes his job very seriously.”
Sellers not only excels on special teams and blocks with power, he also became a bit of a cult hero in Washington after scoring eight touchdowns on just 13 touches as the Redskins ended a six-year playoff drought in 2005.
Said Sellers: “I was grateful when I got that phone call to come back, but Coach Gibbs hadn’t really talked to me until one day we were going out to practice during OTAs [in 2004] and he said, ‘You’re a great player. You can do a lot of stuff for us. Just keep your nose clean.’ I owed it to him, and I owed it to myself to succeed.”
Neither Sellers, who scored just once on 18 touches, nor the Redskins, who sank to 5-11, succeeded last season, but that didn’t stop him from working on Gibbs throughout this offseason.
“Every day I would see Coach Gibbs and say, ‘I want the ball,’ ” Sellers said. “He’d laugh because he thought I was joking.”
After getting six carries in Washington’s opening two victories, Sellers didn’t get one in Sunday’s loss to the Giants. He failed to hold an off-target pass on second down at the New York 1-yard line in the final minute and wasn’t handed the ball on third or fourth down, leading him to question that strategy afterward.
“What I want and what’s presented to me in the game plan [are] two different things,” Sellers said. “I don’t think I’m Superman, but I’m very confident that I can churn out the hard yards. I gotta keep begging a little more.”
That isn’t likely to help. Gibbs believes a lead blocker is more critical at the goal line when the defense is packed tighter than when in short-yardage elsewhere on the field. And that lead blocker is almost always Sellers, whom Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce called an extra lineman.
But the coach appreciates Sellers’ desire.
“If there’s anybody that’s made to play football it’s Mike,” Gibbs said. “That guy’s a pretty unusual athlete. He can do a lot of things. He has real good hands. He obviously plays a ton on special teams. He’s certainly a weapon when you give it to him.”