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Saturday, October 18, 2008
It's a Sellers market for the Redskins

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Redskins fullback Mike Sellers has been flying under the radar for years -- unless you're an opposing linebacker. The Redskins' offensive line has received the majority of the credit for Clinton Portis leading the league in rushing with 643 yards, but it's Sellers who's been blowing up linebackers on Washington's signature running play, "90 press lead."

 
 AP Photo/Nick Wass
 Besides being a punishing blocker, Mike Sellers has scored 18 touchdowns in his NFL career.

It's a zone-blocking play on which Sellers identifies a linebacker to block and then Portis has the option of staying outside or cutting back inside. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds or so, Sellers has the power of an offensive lineman, but the quickness of a man who once caught 63 passes while playing in the Canadian Football League.

Sellers, 33, became the youngest player (18) to sign a CFL contract when he joined the Edmonton Eskimos in 1995. He turned 19 during training camp, and quickly became a vital part of the team. He had attended Walla Walla (Washington) Community College for a year, but he left school to turn pro because of "financial constraints."

"My first contract was for $60,000," said Sellers. "And I think they threw in a $10,000 signing bonus. I thought I was a rich man. Honestly, I didn't know what to do with all that money."

Sellers fell in love with life in Canada and says he'd still be there if they could pay him like an NFL player. In 1998, he was signed as a tight end by the Redskins. He's always wanted to know who discovered him -- Norv Turner was the head coach at the time -- but no one can tell him.

"To this day, I don't know how they came across me," Sellers said. "I've asked several times, but no one has any knowledge of how it happened."

Not long ago head coach Jim Zorn, who also spent some time in the CFL, called Sellers into his office and had him sign one of the fullback's old CFL cards for a friend.

"Coach Zorn's a little bit different," said Sellers, laughing. "But he's been amazing for this team."

Sellers loved playing for assistant coach Bobby Jackson, but early in his NFL career, he played the H-back position. He had soft hands and could make plays in the passing game, but he yearned to return to fullback. It's refreshing to hear him talk about a position that's on the verge of extinction in the NFL.

Sellers took it on himself to watch film of former fullbacks such as Daryl "Moose" Johnston, but his fullbacking hero is former Chicago Bear Matt Suhey.

"I'm an old-school guy," Sellers said. "I have all those old Bears tapes, because I love watching Suhey."

Sellers has helped make Portis one of the best running backs in the game, and that's not lost on the running back. A couple of seasons ago, he gave Sellers his choice of five Rolex watches. Many of Portis' signature runs over the years have come when he reaches out and uses Sellers' jersey to guide him through a hole.

The Redskins were trailing the Saints, 17-9, in Week 2 when they faced a second-and-goal at the 9-yard line. On a sweep to the left side, Sellers destroyed defensive end Will Smith and then he took out safety Kevin Kaesviharn to escort Portis into the end zone. As Portis said recently, "Mike Sellers has linebackers running from him."

Sellers says there's only one player in the league who could consistently give him trouble, and that was Steelers linebacker Levon Kirkland. The two used to square off during joint-practices in training camp.

"We would have live goal line plays where you had to run the ball," Sellers said. "And I'd have to try and block a 300-pound linebacker. That was not a fun situation."

Despite all his success as the lead blocker in the Redskins' vaunted running game, Sellers has never been to a Pro Bowl. Last season, he was a first alternate. This season, though, the Redskins are taking advantage of their close proximity to the White House. With the presidential election less than three weeks away, Washington has launched its official Pro Bowl campaign. It's worth watching the video just to see a legendary quarterback say, "I'm Sonny Jurgensen, and I approve this message."

If Sellers doesn't make it this season, blame it on voter irregularities in Florida. He's one of the most devastating blockers in the league, and to watch him on an isolation play is pretty impressive.

Sellers grew up about 40 miles outside Seattle and most of his family lives in Olympia. Unless he's watching film, he rarely watches sports. Growing up in the Northwest turned him into an outdoorsman. He's always been a fisherman, but lately he's doing a lot more hunting. Sellers says the secret to his fishing success is using a worm and a marshmallow.

"It's something one of my buddies told me about when I was a kid," he said. "And there's something about the sweetness of the marshmallow that really does the trick. I almost hate to give it away to people."

Sellers has a 9-year-old daughter named Kaylin who lives in Olympia with her mother. He calls her every day, and says that she used to get upset watching his games because she thought everyone was out to hurt her father.

"When she found out I was the one doing the hurting, she was OK with it," he said.

Sellers has 75 catches and 18 touchdowns during his NFL career, but stats don't interest him. His favorite part of the game is hitting a linebacker or safety in space, and it's something he's hoping will get him to Hawaii -- or at least Walla Walla.