When Mike Sellers was forced to leave The Citadel two years ago, a part of him thought his football career was over.
Sellers was an FCS All-American as a center for the Bulldogs, a prime mover in The Citadel's 7-4 season in 2012 and a major reason for Bulldogs optimism during spring practice in 2013. But in February 2013, word came down that Sellers would be forced to leave The Citadel just before his senior year, accused of a violation of the military school's honor code.
The news plunged Sellers into depression. The Fort Dorchester High School graduate had just celebrated the birth of a son; now it seemed as if his football career and a chance at a college degree might be done.
"After that happened, I went through a really down period," Sellers says now. "I just had my son, and now I was going to have to leave my family and all my friends, leave all the coaches I had developed close connections with. It was hard."
With the encouragement of his father, Sellers decided to continue his career at Winston-Salem State, a Division II school in Winston-Salem State, N.C. After sitting out the 2013 season, Sellers started at center for the Rams last season, playing well enough to earn an invitation to Saturday's Medal of Honor Bowl all-star game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Ironically, Sellers found himself back at The Citadel on Monday, dressing in the Bulldogs' locker room and working out in front of NFL scouts on The Citadel's practice field.
"It's really kind of bittersweet," Sellers said. "I really wanted to stay here and graduate from The Citadel. But being back here and seeing a lot of old friends and getting to play in this game, it's really a blessing."
The big question for Sellers this week is finding a position where he can fit in pro football. At The Citadel, Sellers was a 6-0, 290-pound center with a quick first step and a mean streak. But that's not big enough to project as an offensive lineman in the NFL, where the average lineman is about 6-5 and 310 pounds. At the NFL Scouting Combine last year, the shortest lineman stood 6-2; the lightest weighed 299 pounds.
That's why Sellers will spend time at H-back, fullback, linebacker and tight end this week.
"That will be hard, but that's what I need to do," said Sellers, who now weighs about 265 pounds. "I feel like I can play center at the next level, but a lot of scouts say they like me at fullback. Whatever they like me at, that's where I'll play."
Running pass routes is definitely something new for Sellers, who did play fullback at Fort Dorchester.
American Team offensive coordinator Cam Turner played with Sellers for one season at The Citadel.
"He's going to be a utility guy for us," said Turner, the quarterbacks and receivers coach at Florida International. "We're going to try to move him around and see what we can do with him. We'll see if he can block at the point of attack on run plays, and then get him out in the flat and see if he can catch the ball.
"He's strong, he's athletic. We'll move him around and then let the scouts do their job and see where he fits."
For now, Sellers is just happy to have a second chance to show that he can fit somewhere.
"I've learned a lot," he said. "Bad things happen, mistakes happen. But you just have to keep going."
Most of the Medal of Honor Bowl players with local ties are on the American Team along with Sellers. Citadel players Jake Stenson (running back) and Justin Oxendine (defensive end) are on coach Willie Jeffries' American squad, along with linebackers Gabe Middlebrook of Charleston Southern and Michael Gruber of Dorchester Academy and Brevard College.
N.C. State defensive tackle Thomas Teal had to pull out of the Medal of Honor Bowl with an eye injury. He's been replaced by tackle Brandon Smith of Division II Miles College.
Events for fans to attend this week include the Heroes Luncheon for The Wounded Warriors of S.C. on Tuesday and the Gridiron Greats panel discussion on Thursday. Ticket information for both events is at www.mohbowl.com.
Former Clemson standout quarterback Tajh Boyd and former South Carolina two-sport athlete Bruce Ellington will be at the pregame Tailgate FanFest on Saturday in the stadium's parking lot from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
The duo will meet and greet with fans, take pictures and sign some autographs. There is no admission charge to the Tailgate Fanfest.
Medal of Honor Bowl chairman Tommy McQueeney said a solid turnout for Saturday's game is vital for the event's first year on TV. The game will be shown on NBC Sports Network.
Fans have a chance to win a Mercedes Benz at the game, and a donation of $20 will earn fans a chance at a Super Bowl VIP package. See www.mohbowl.com for details.