ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Somewhere in the middle of the play, Mike Sellers' helmet came off.
Yet he kept his legs going, powering a scrum that moved forward at least 10 yards and left several bodies in its wake. He and his naked noggin finally hit the turf at the 1-yard line, where he shook his head in disbelief and flashed a big smile.
Sellers the fullback wreaking havoc with the Washington Redskins? Nope. It was Sellers the tailback in a starring role for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL, where he went to serve a two-year exile after legal and attitude problems made him persona non grata in the NFL.
``I had to make plays up in Canada,'' Sellers said Monday, ``in order for them to see me, and make sure they knew that I was able to do the job again.''
Sellers had his biggest NFL day Sunday. He had five runs for 24 yards and a touchdown, plus three receptions for 36 yards and a score in Washington's 34-3 victory over the Detroit Lions. The eight touches are a career high - unless you count those character reformation days north of the border.
``You've got to take your hat off to Mike for his hard work and for changing the way he was going about his business,'' center Casey Rabach said. ``He really turned his life around.''
Sellers has told his story many times, but he doesn't mind repeating it - especially to a young teammate getting full of himself. The big guy with the troubled past is now the poster boy for how not to start an NFL career.
``You see a few guys that come in and they're a little cocky, and they remind me a lot of myself,'' Sellers said. ``I just let them know. I tell them what I've been through, just to calm it down. They know I know what I'm talking about.''
The story, in condensed form: Sellers didn't take the SAT because he thought his football talent alone would be enough to get him into a major college. Bad choice. He ended up settling for Walla Walla Community College in Washington state, quit when his mother became ill and took a job loading Pepsi trucks. Out of nowhere, the Edmonton Eskimos called and signed him at age 19, making him the youngest player in CFL history.
He played well enough to earn a look from the Redskins, who signed him in 1998. He was a special teams standout and a versatile offensive weapon for three seasons, then signed a three-year, $2.4 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. Soon afterward, he was arrested and charged with cocaine possession and numerous misdemeanors after a traffic stop. The Browns released him, even though the criminal charges were later dropped.
Thinking his NFL days were done for good, Sellers went back to Canada and piled up the yards for the Blue Bombers. In 2004, he was resting back home in Washington state one day when the phone rang.
``I just happened to look and it said 'Redskins,''' Sellers said. ``And I was like, 'Huh?' I was in such shock that they would even call. The way I left here, I didn't think I'd ever be back.''
The Redskins signed Sellers again - with a zero-tolerance caveat from coach Joe Gibbs.
``Coach Gibbs pulled me to the side and said 'We understand what happened and all that type of stuff - you just keep your nose clean.' He didn't have to say anything else to me,'' Sellers said.
Since then, it has been Sellers pulling Gibbs aside, begging to get more involved in the offense. Usually players who plead for the ball are more irritating than successful, but Sellers has a good-natured playfulness that balances the tough man image. He's always the one who is throwing a towel on a teammate's head to disrupt a television interview, and his two-tone, dyed-at-the-bottom beard lets you know he isn't all business, all the time.
Except when he's on the field. At a well-sculpted 280 pounds, he's to be feared if he's headed your way.
``He's probably the most underrated player on our team,'' assistant coach Al Saunders said. ``He can run the football. He can catch the ball. He can block with his hand on the line of scrimmage as a tight end. He can block from the backfield. He plays more roles than any other player in our offense.''
The blue-collar worker had his day in the sun against the Lions. The two touchdowns were big, of course, but the highlight came when Sellers caught a pass and bulldozed defensive back Kenoy Kennedy in a 24-yard gain. At first, Sellers thought the play was no big deal - ``I usually hit people, so for me it wasn't anything different,'' he said after the game - but then he went home and watched the replay that is generating more buzz anything he did in Manitoba.
``I kind of impressed myself,'' Sellers said. ``It was a pleasure to see.''

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