MANKATO, Minn. –Andrew Sendejo is no stranger to hard work.
His NFL journey has been an atypical one, but as Sendejo progressed from undrafted free agent to starting safety, strong work ethic has remained consistent.
He is now preparing for his sixth season in Purple and fourth under Minnesota's defensive coaches.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards told media members Friday that Sendejo has paid attention to "all of the little details."
Edwards emphasized that Sendejo is going to do everything he's asked by the coaching staff.
"He's a true professional," Edwards said. "He's going to eat right, he's going to take care of his body, he's going to get rest, he's going to be in the playbook. We can go from the classroom to the field, [and you're] going to see it, you're going to hear it exactly the way that we put it in, and I think that makes everyone around him comfortable."
Edwards added that Sendejo is a reliable presence on the field because "you know what you are getting with him."
Come game day, Sendejo is trusted by his teammates and coaches alike.
"Schematically, calls and communication, all of those things," Edwards said. "He is a tough, physical football player that's very accountable and does a good job for us."
Ask Sendejo about it, and he'll tell you football is a team sport. That it's second nature for him to keep himself and his compatriots accountable between the hash marks.
And it doesn't hurt to have a multi-season rapport within the defense. Sendejo now has two consecutive seasons of being the full-time starter alongside Harrison Smith – in addition to also starting 10 games in 2013 – and has shared the backfield with Xavier Rhodes over that same time period.
"Accountability is a huge aspect of football – knowing that you're going to do your job and 'That guy's going to be where he's supposed to be,' which is going to allow you to do your job better," said Sendejo, adding that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer preaches that message on repeat.
"Basically, if you just go out there and do your job and do it to the best of your ability, and do it the way your coaches [ask], if everyone does that all the time, then we'll be successful," Sendejo said.
He also credits a large part of his success to defensive backs Coach Jerry Gray, who joined the Vikings with Zimmer's staff in 2014.
Just as Sendejo has earned confidence from Gray, the position coach has also secured his players' trust and undivided attention. Gray spent eight seasons in the NFL secondary himself – during which he was a four-time Pro Bowler – before beginning his coaching career. His experience isn't taken for granted.
Sendejo said Gray "brings a lot to the table" in the DB room.
"You know when he's coaching that he's seen pretty much everything, so he has good insight into what he's telling you to do," Sendejo said. "When he says something, you really take it in. Because you're like, 'All right, this guy definitely knows his stuff.'
"Even outside of football stuff, he just pushes us to be better in all aspects," Sendejo continued. "He has the highest expectations for us because he played at that level, so it's like second nature to him to be at that level."
Gray said players usually know a coach's background when they begin working together. But reading a bio is one thing; Gray also knows that the players "are looking for proof" when he gets with them on the gridiron.
Sendejo has bought into Gray's coaching, and it's paid off.
"If they're successful, they'll come back," Gray said. "I learned a long time ago; you've got a little bit of credibility early, and you can also lose it if they're not getting what they need because they'll go somewhere else to try to get it. My job is to try to make sure each guy understands what he's doing and try to tailor my teaching to individual guys. Sometimes, even as a group, I kind of talk to individual guys."
Sendejo has taken the 1-on-1 instruction from Gray and used it to build on an existing skill set.
In 2016, Sendejo finished the season with 72 total tackles (coaches' tally), a tackle for loss, two fumble recoveries, five passes defensed and two interceptions.
He's now prepping for 2017 with the mindset to keep improving while maintaining reliability.
"You always have to be focused, you have to be locked in," Sendejo said. "You have to be continually studying, going over things, correcting yourself. I think it's more of a mental thing to be a consistent player – to do things over and over and do them correctly."
When Sendejo and Smith take the field, they're a duo capable of doing some damage.
Gray said the pair of safeties gives the defense as a whole confidence in playing at a high level.
"We don't worry about those guys having mental busts, technique busts, stuff like that," Gray said. "We know they're going to give us 110 percent. We know we can go 11-5 when they're healthy and playing the whole season.
"The thing we're trying to do is get better than that," Gray added. "We want to win the division, we want to go farther in the playoffs, so we've got some guys that we know are going to give us that ability."