Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo has had an interesting football journey that has led him from the UFL to a starter in the NFL. Nothing has ever been handed to him and nothing has ever been assured.
An undrafted player coming out of Rice in 2010, Sendejo signed his first pro contract with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the short-lived United Football League. He impressed scouts from the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent half the season on the practice squad before getting called up to the 53-man roster.
In 2011, Sendejo was one of the final cuts by Dallas, signed by the Jets (who played Dallas in Week 1 that season), but was released three weeks later. After spending two months in career limbo, he signed with the Vikings and the rest has been history.
Sendejo had to learn to accept rejection and learned to be a role player before his starting opportunity came to be a full-time defensive player. While he has had to fight and scratch to prolong his football career, he doesn’t see his path as being all that different from every other NFL player.
“Everyone has to work really hard to get here, so I’m not alone there,” Sendejo said. “Nobody is handed a starting job in this league. You can never get complacent because of what you been able to accomplish. I’m proud that I’ve been able to earn my spot, but I don’t look at it that I’m done yet just because I got to this point. I have a lot more to prove.”
There was talk last season that Sendejo had earned the right to start opposite Harrison Smith. When he got his chance due to injuries in 2013 – starting 10 games when Smith went down – he played well. In 2014, he was relegated back to part-time duty, but didn’t see that as an indictment of his skills.
“I never really got caught up in the ‘starter/non-starter’ thing,” Sendejo said. “I’m just here to play. If they tell me I’m starting, I’m good with that. I just want to play, whether I’m on the field for the first play or not. I’ve been given that opportunity this year and I have to try to make the most of it.”
All Sendejo could do was make the most of his role. Non-starters typically keep their roster spots by playing special teams. It isn’t glamourous work, but it is important work.
Nobody comes into the NFL saying they want to be a special teams ace, but when you have no job security, making a positive impression on the coaching staff is critical to assure players that aren’t high draft picks are one of the 53 players that stays when the final cuts are made each year.
“If you ask any player in the NFL that isn’t a starter if they want to be a starter, all of them would say yes,” Sendejo said. “That’s everyone’s goal. But, if you’re not a starter, you need to be a core special-teams guy. You just need to accept your role, whether you’re a starter or special teamer.”
Now that Sendejo is acknowledged as a starter in the defense, he isn’t taking his full-time promotion lightly.
He’s still working with the same blue-collar work ethic. He remains a fixture on special teams and defense. He doesn’t mind the increased workload. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s how I’ve always approached it,” Sendejo said. “I didn’t come in here as a starter. When I wasn’t a starter, I worked as hard as I could to be as good a special-teams player as I could be. Now I’m a starter on defense, but I still take a lot of pride in my work on special teams. I think they’re both important and the more I can do to help the team, the better.”
Sendejo’s journey from the UFL to bouncing around the NFL hasn’t been the standard route a player takes to realize his NFL dream, but Sendejo has been able to silence his some of his critics and make the improbable leap from a roster bubble guy to a starting safety on one of the best defenses in the NFL.
He feels he is a good fit in Mike Zimmer’s defense but isn’t about to rest on his laurels now. The climb to where he has found himself now has been a six-year struggle. Now that he has reached the pinnacle, he sees his job as only being half-finished.
He’s earned his starting spot. Now he has to keep it.
“I’m glad that I’ve shown Zimmer and the coaching staff enough to give them confidence in me to put me out there on the defense,” Sendejo said. “But, at the same time, I’m still not satisfied. There are a lot of things I can do better and there will always be guys looking to take my spot. I have to earn my spot every week. That’s how I’ve always looked at it and that isn’t going to change.”