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Duluthian Ham to remember first NFL TD

Jeff Wheeler / Minneapolis Star Tribune Vikings running back C.J. Ham (30) scored from the 1-yard line in the third quarter Sunday at Pittsburgh for the Duluth Denfeld graduate's first career NFL touchdown.

If somebody wanted to bet you before the NFL season that Duluth native C.J. Ham would score a touchdown before Minnesota Vikings' prized rookie Dalvin Cook and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, there'd be a common reply.

How much?

But that was the case as Ham, Minnesota's 5-foot-11, 235-pound fullback, plunged in from a yard out in Sunday's 26-9 loss at Pittsburgh, scoring a touchdown on his first (and, so far, only) NFL carry.

"The touchdowns I've scored in the preseason are something I'll always remember, but that's the first one that really counts," Ham said in a phone interview Wednesday from the Vikings' Winter Park headquarters in Eden Prairie. "It really solidifies that I'm an NFL player."

Ham, a 2011 Duluth Denfeld graduate and second-year pro, has a stat line any fullback would love: one carry, one yard, one touchdown. He also has a pair of solo tackles while being active on special teams for the Vikings (1-1).

Ham scored on a fullback dive in the third quarter that trimmed the lead to 17-9. It was set up by Cook's 25-yard run that initially was ruled a touchdown before being overturned.

Cook's loss was Ham's gain.

"Dalvin had an unbelievable run, so I wished they would have given it to him because it would have capped off the drive," Ham said. "When I went in there, they called my number. We had a good play, and I'm glad I got to score."

The quick-hitting play was about as simple as it gets.

"There's not much magic to it," Ham said. "It's just one of those smash-mouth football plays. Grab the ball, find some space and squeeze in there."

A Duluthian scoring an NFL touchdown doesn't happen very often. Central standout Ted McKnight scored 23 touchdowns in a six-year NFL career from 1977-82, and Gordy Soltau, a receiver with the San Francisco 49ers from 1950-58, scored 25 touchdowns while adding 644 points as a placekicker. But a Duluthian scoring a touchdown on his first NFL carry while playing for his home state Vikings? Unheard of.

"I love all the support I get from Duluth. I hear from people all the time," Ham said. "Duluth means so much to me. All my friends are still texting me and calling me and congratulating me. It definitely keeps me going."

Ham, 24, played NCAA Division II football at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. He had a stellar four-year career, rushing for 2,662 yards and 29 TDs while adding 96 catches for 949 yards and six more scores, but nobody could have predicted this.

Ham landed on the Vikings practice squad last year and, after switching to fullback, is on Minnesota's active roster this season, making a base salary of $465,000.

Ham and his wife, Stephanie, live five minutes from Winter Park, with their 15-month old daughter, Skylar.

"Being on the practice squad was one of the best things that happened to me," Ham said. "Obviously, it would have been nice to make the 53-man roster last year, too, but I feel like that year really helped me grow as a player and really learn the system and just learn the ins and outs of being a professional. I am a lot more prepared."

And ready to contribute, in whatever way he can.

Ham's mentality from the start has been just to do his job. He was asked how he he prepares with the Vikings having uncertainty at quarterback with an injured Sam Bradford.

"I don't think it's hard at all," Ham said. "Obviously Sam's our guy, but we know Case (Keenum) and all the other backups are more than prepared, and we're ready to go out there with anybody and fight. We're all going to fight for each other."

Every running back appreciates a good fullback, one who fights for him.

Cook was all smiles on Sunday in Pittsburgh talking about Ham's first NFL touchdown, even if it came after he just missed on his.

"I thought I got in, but C.J. does all the hard lifting, so I'm just glad he got in the end zone," Cook said. "He does a lot of hard lifting for all us backs, and that was his reward."

Some might say Cook did all the hard lifting on that drive

"Sometimes we have C.J. in there taking on those linebackers head on," Cook said. "That's a lot to do. That's a lot to take on, so I'm just happy for him."

After scoring his first NFL touchdown, Ham came off the field and handed the football to an equipment manager. The football is now neatly tucked away in his locker at Winter Park.

"That was definitely a moment to remember, and it's definitely going to go up in my house someday," Ham said. "Playing fullback, I don't know how many more touchdowns there are going to be in my near future, so I'm going to cherish the ones I get."