Gopher Sports: From Captain to Coach

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Fall 2014

By Rick Moore, Photograph by Mark Luinenburg

The story about how Mike Sherels (B.S. ’07, M.Ed. ’14) finally made a move on his future wife, Emily (B.A. ’08, M.Ed. ’11) at the McNamara Academic Center is interesting, but it pales in comparison to how Emily conspired to help him meet his future boss, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill. A few days after Kill arrived at the University of Minnesota in 2010, he attended a men’s basketball game at Williams Arena. Emily, who worked for then–head basketball coach Tubby Smith, made sure there was an empty seat next to Kill.

Sherels sidled up to Kill and delivered his best pick-up-a-job line: “Coach Kill, my name is Mike Sherels. I played football at the U and was a two-time captain, and I want to come work for you.”

Despite his nerves—or maybe because of his nerve—Sherels made an impression. Kill made him “special assistant to the head coach” in 2011—in essence, an intern.

“I have no qualms starting off at the bottom and paying my dues, so long as I’m in a system that rewards hard work,” Sherels says. “Because in that system I will come out on top more often than not. . . . I’m living proof of that.”

He certainly is. A product of John Marshall High School in Rochester, Sherels turned down scholarship offers from North Dakota State and Northern Iowa, opting instead to take his chances walking on at Minnesota. His risk paid off. From 2004 to 2007, he started 30 games at linebacker for the Gophers, recorded 219 tackles, and is the only Minnesota walk-on ever to become a two-time captain.

Now the walk-on is a coach. Last March, just a few days before spring practice began, Kill named Sherels linebackers coach to succeed Bill Miller, who left for Florida State. He’s thrilled to be a part of Kill’s renowned loyal and tight-knit staff.

On the same day Sherels was promoted to linebackers coach, his younger brother Marcus (B.A. ’10)—also a former walk-on star for the Gophers—signed a two-year extension with the Minnesota Vikings. Recently, after living with Mike for nine years, Marcus found a place of his own. “He finally moved out, one mile down the road,” jokes the elder Sherels. “It was a little awkward when he’s a millionaire living with his graduate assistant brother.”

Sherels considers himself a cerebral coach, having absorbed the schemes and philosophies of the many coaches he’s played for and worked with. “I’m one that takes all that information and then turns it into my own with the bits and pieces that I like,” he says. “I enjoy the thinking side of the game.”

Kill calls Sherels wise beyond his years and a good teacher who has the respect of coaches and players alike. And there’s that deep shade of maroon he bleeds. “He knows more about Minnesota than any of us,” Kill says. “He’s taught us all about the University and the state.”

In that sense, Sherels can certainly talk the talk. “I can sit in a recruit’s living room and I can tell him that the University of Minnesota is the greatest place in the world,” he says. “I’m completely sincere when I say it. I believe it because I lived it, and the best decision I ever made in my life was to walk on at Minnesota.”

That, and sitting down next to Jerry Kill.

Pregame Headquarters McNamara Alumni Center will host its traditional pregame party beginning two hours prior to kickoff at all home games. Food and beverages will be sold. Camaraderie and Gopher spirit will be available free of charge.

Brawn and brains

By some measures, the 2013-14 academic year was the best on record for Gopher student athletes. Eighteen Gopher teams posted perfect Academic Progress Rates (APR) scores, the highest number of single-year perfect scores in Minnesota athletics history. The APR is the NCAA’s multiyear measurement designed to track student athletes’ eligibility and progress toward graduation. Nine teams posted perfect multiyear scores, which is also the highest number ever achieved at Minnesota.

Those statistics translate into the U being the highest ranked public institution in the nation for percentage of sports teams earning APR awards. It ranked fourth among all major colleges and universities, trailing only Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Duke.

Additionally, 295 student athletes were named Academic All–Big Ten. To be eligible, student athletes must be letterwinners who are in at least their second academic year and carry a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher. In the fall semester 35 of the 72 fall sports student athletes who earned the honor were football players, the highest number ever.

Women’s hockey player Kelly Terry, a senior, and gymnast Nathan Fortunato (B.A. ’14) were honored among the best in their sports. Terry was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Outstanding Student Athlete of the Year and Fortunato received the NCAA Elite 89 Award for men’s gymnastics.


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