By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Slow and steady wins the race. That idiom can be easily applied to Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham. The slow part is, of course, only figurative.
As far back as he can remember, when anyone asked Ham what he wanted to do when he grew up, he had one answer, “Play football.” Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, he excelled at both football, and track and field. He was also a big Vikings fan. “I’m pretty sure I wore a Cris Carter jersey all the time,” Ham laughed.
His parents, both healthcare workers, supported his dream to pursue a career in the NFL.
“My dad’s been a big believer in me,” Ham said. “He always said I was going to play in the NFL. He always had the same mindset. It was something I told him I wanted to do.”
Coming out of Duluth Denfield High School, Ham admits he wasn’t as proactive at taking advantage of the college recruiting process as he might have been. He also describes himself as a “late bloomer” so, when Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a NCAA Division II school, offered him the opportunity to play running back, he took it.
Ham red-shirted in 2011, but in the four years that followed, he played in all but two games (in 2012) for the Augustana Vikings. By his senior year, he was getting a lot of attention within the NSIC conference, but getting the attention of NFL scouts was more difficult. Although not invited to the NFL Combine, he was invited to regional combines, but then received a call that there was a team that preferred he participate in a Pro Day at the University of Minnesota, which he did.
On Draft weekend 2016, Ham’s phone never rang. “I was hurt about it. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m not going to get the shot I wanted,” he recalled.
Then, on Sunday, back in Sioux Falls, he went to church, and that’s when everything changed. Normally, Ham doesn’t bring his phone to church. That day he did. And that’s where he was where it finally rang. The Minnesota Vikings – the team the Minnesota native had rooted for since childhood – wanted to sign him as a tryout player.
Upon the completion of the team’s rookie minicamp, the Vikings signed Ham to a free agent contract, making him just the fifth player in Augustana history to make it to the NFL. He put up good numbers during the preseason, and was ultimately signed to the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster in December. Ham began the 2017 season as the Vikings starting fullback. During week 2, a game in which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ham scored his first NFL touchdown and the only one the team scored that day.
For Ham, the process was a bit of a whirlwind, but one he has embraced.
“Obviously going into [the NFL] I was star struck, but then you slowly realize you do belong, that you are there for a reason,” he said. “Being on the practice squad was huge for me. I took it like a year of red-shirting in college, getting bigger and learning what the NFL was about.
“I was lucky enough to have a great group of guys in the running back room who supported me and gave me confidence. I think otherwise my head would have been spinning.”
With the support of those around him, and continuing to keep his goals in mind, Ham is now steadily, but no longer slowly, winning his race.
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.