Asmussen | Are you ready? B.J. Luke sure is

Asmussen | Are you ready? B.J. Luke sure is

Don't bother calling B.J. Luke on Sunday afternoon. The former Danville High School football coach has important plans.

In front of the TV. With a room full of friends.

Luke will be flipping between a pair of NFL openers: Washington at Arizona and Dallas at Carolina.

Why does he care? Two of Luke's stars with the Vikings will be in the games.

Trent Sherfield is a rookie receiver with the Cardinals.

After a solid career at Vanderbilt, including 2,153 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns, he went undrafted. But he made the roster thanks to good work on offense and special teams.

Justin March-Lillard enters his second season with the Cowboys and fourth overall in the league.

The linebacker was undrafted after playing at Akron. He signed with the Chiefs in 2015, but missed that season with a knee injury. He recovered and made 22 tackles in 2016 with Kansas City before playing for the Dolphins, Seahawks and Cowboys last season.

The odds for making it in the NFL are long. Really long.

"There are so many good players out there," Luke said. "The good thing about those two is they are both real hard workers. They're deserving because of the work they've put in. I think one of the things they had going for them was they had families that were very, very supportive of them."

Luke is supportive, too. He will record both games Sunday and in the future.

Thank goodness for modern technology.

"You can catch both games and not mess around with commercials either," Luke said.

Watching from afar

Both figure to get plenty of TV time. The 22-year-old Sherfield is listed at third string behind the great Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk on the receiver depth chart. He will also be involved in special teams, and look for him on punts.

"The games I watched, he was very good as a gunner on the punt team," Luke said.

March-Lillard will be in the middle of the defense. The 25-year-old is the backup to Damien Wilson at strongside linebacker.

"Justin's got some games under his belt now," Luke said. "When he's on the field, he's very, very active. You see him a lot."

Breaking ground

March and Sherfield are the first two Vikings to play in the NFL, according to Luke, but not the first from Danville. Former Schlarman star Zeke Bratkowski spent 15 seasons with the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers. He won two Super Bowl rings with Green Bay.

With Sherfield in the league, Luke now has coached five former NFL players.

During his time at Waubonsie Valley, Luke worked with futre pros Fabien Bownes, his son, R.J. Luke, and Chris Ziemann.

"I've never had two (in the NFL) at one time," Luke said.

Bownes went from undrafted free agent at Western Illinois to a six-year NFL career with the Bears and Seahawks.

"He was the last receiver on the team, but he made a living as the gunner on special teams," Luke said. "To be truthful, Trent's got much better ball skills than Fabien had."

Ziemann, an offensive lineman standout a Michigan, played one season with the New York Giants.

Former News-Gazette All-Stater R.J. Luke spent time with the Titans and the Seahawks.

Claim to fame

Danville High has produced more than its share of famous folks: Dick Van Dyke and his brother Jerry, Gene Hackman and Bobby Short.

"We like those guys too," Luke said. "But it's fun for the community and it's fun for the kids now that can watch on Sunday. I'm proud of the effort those kids have made to put themselves in this position."

Like the other celebrities, Sherfield and March-Lillard remember their roots.

"Justin comes home every summer and runs a camp for the kids here in town," Luke said. "I'm sure Trent will do the same."

Luke didn't talk to his NFL players during training camp. But he sent a text to March-Lillard after finding out he made the roster. His message?

"Be active as always," Luke said. "And we're really proud of you."

Luke figures most of Danville will be watching Sunday. Later on down the road, when their playing days are done, it makes sense for the community to honor the two NFL players.

March-Lillard and Sherfield have already done so by continuing their football journey at the highest level.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.