Running back Amir Pinnix and linebacker Mike Sherels are among about at least a dozen rookies practicing this weekend with the Vikings on a tryout basis.
"I jumped at the chance," said Sherels, who was a second-team all-state selection in high school at Rochester John Marshall. "It's a lifelong dream to be able to stay in my home state my whole life and play football. I've got the biggest and grandest stage and I'm just running with it. I'm living the dream."
As a freshman, Sherels walked on to the University of Minnesota and played in 11 games. As a sophomore, he started seven games, ranked seventh on the team with 50 tackles, including 6½ for a loss, and had two fumble recoveries. By his junior season, he was named a co-captain and earned the title of the team's most outstanding defensive player.
Last year, despite a disappointing season for the Gophers and their defense, Sherels had 55 tackles, including 7½ for a loss.
After walking on as a freshman, Sherels is in a similar situation this weekend with the Vikings. Instead of a scholarship offer, he's looking to earn a contract and have more time and practices to prove himself to the Vikings.
"Like the rest of us guys, we came in, we all put on our uniforms and helmets and we all kind of oogled at ourselves in the mirror and then took it all in. That was that. It was a dream come true, basically, to put on a pro uniform," he said.
He spent much of Thursday taking a physical and filling out "loads of paperwork" before he even knew Pinnix was going to be joining him this weekend.
Likewise, Pinnix didn't know Sherels would among the players the Vikings were trying out.
Pinnix rushed 106 times for 563 yards last year with the Gophers, having his carries somewhat limited by a turf toe injury and an apparent dwindling workload as the rebuilding team worked in a younger Duane Bennett. Pinnix has been working out in New Jersey in the hopes that he would have an opportunity with an NFL team, and returning to Minnesota was a bit of a bonus.
"Very exciting, especially to come back to Minnesota," he said.
He did have other options. He said the Lions and Giants also contacted him, but "this is my home. I feel comfortable here. This is where I've spent the last five years and just to come back and be a Minnesota Viking is just an unbelievable opportunity."
Sherels also said he had opportunities, but he let his agent, Chris Murray, sort through the offers and analyze which option would give him the best chance to play football as a professional.
"I didn't really make the choices. I left it up to Chris Murray and I trusted his judgment," Sherels said. "Whatever team you feel I have the best chance to succeed in, he called called right away and told me the Vikings offered me a spot. He thought there were some other teams in the mix, but he thought it was the best chance for me and I didn't even question it. I came right here."
It doesn't hurt that Sherels knows some of the people involved with the Vikings because of his Minnesota roots. "If I can contribute and another person can contribute the same amount, I don't figure it hurts to know a lot of people here," he said.
Even so, it always comes down to players proving themselves in the NFL, something with which Sherels is very familiar.
"I enjoy being an underdog and enjoy proving people wrong," he said. "Coming in here, it's just like coming into the ‘U' as a walk-on. I was kind of an underdog. I have four days to show these coaches that I can help."
Pinnix and Sherels share the same goal.
"To make team, that's the goal … come out, showcase my abilities and show that I'm a hard worker and a quick learner," Pinnix said.
And then it will be up to the coaches to decide which of the many players on tryout this weekend will get an extended opportunity to prove themselves through the summer camps.