Vikings order Ham for Christmas

Denny LeGarde tuned out the Minnesota Vikings weeks ago. But news Friday that fellow Duluth Denfeld High School graduate C.J. Ham had been called up to the active roster changed all that.

Former Duluth Denfeld running back and Minnesota Viking C.J. Ham of Duluth on the sideline of Augustana during a Sept. 24 game against Minnesota Duluth at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. (2016 file / News Tribune)

Denny LeGarde tuned out the Minnesota Vikings weeks ago. But news Friday that fellow Duluth Denfeld High School graduate C.J. Ham had been called up to the active roster changed all that.

“I’d given up after they started losing, but I’ll watch now,” said LeGarde, a 1983 Denfeld graduate, from his seat at G. B. Schneider & Co. “It’s great for him and great for the area.”

The Vikings play the Green Bay Packers at noon today, and Ham was activated to take the roster spot of cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who was placed on injured reserve.

Former All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson also was ruled out for the game, meaning Ham will be one of four active running backs on the team’s roster, joining Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon and Zach Line.

A 2011 Denfeld graduate, Ham got the call after spending the first 14 games on the team’s practice squad. Ham originally joined the Vikings last spring for its post-draft rookie camp. He signed as an undrafted free agent following a stellar career at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he totaled 2,662 rushing yards, 949 receiving yards and 35 overall touchdowns in 43 games.


Ham’s Denfeld teammate Tony Klaas said it’s “absolutely amazing” news and he texted Ham to congratulate him. Klaas said he definitely would be watching today’s game.

“It’s better than any Christmas present you could ask for,” said Klaas, who played with Ham for all four years of high school.

Klaas said he knew Ham would do well at the college level and, as for the Vikings, “I knew he’d crack that lineup eventually,” he said. “He’s the best football player I’ve ever played with, but he’s an even way better person.”

Duluth resident Jordan Verry also played football with Ham, and the two have been friends ever since - Ham is the godfather of Verry’s daughter. Verry said he can’t be happier for Ham.

“Ever since we graduated high school and he went on to play D-II, we all knew he was special before that. There were times when I almost got caught on the field watching him run - when I should have been blocking for him - and watching him carry four, five, six guys on his back and still be moving downfield. He was incredible to watch,” Verry said.

A favorite memory for Verry was the celebratory moment he had with Ham on the field after they beat East High School in 12th grade, saying, “That was a really cool moment for us.”

Playing professional football is never guaranteed, but Verry said he always hoped Ham would make it that far.

“There’s nobody who deserved it more. He definitely put in the work to get there. You’ll never meet a better guy off the field,” Verry said. “Nobody deserves this opportunity more than he does, him and his family.”


“It’s awesome,” said Nikki Kovach, a 2004 Denfeld grad. “I was just on Facebook, and that’s what everyone was posting about. He’s such an amazing guy.”

Kovach said she taught Ham’s nieces and nephews while working in a local Head Start program. She’ll be carving out the afternoon to watch the game.

“When you know someone, it makes you want to watch it even more,” she said.

At Randy’s Cafe in Lincoln Park, Darren Kerner was busy making meals as a short-order cook on Friday. He graduated from Denfeld with Ham in 2011.

“It’s awesome,” he said, sliding hashbrowns onto a plate. “He’s a great guy - and the best player I’ve seen live in a long time.”

Server Denise Flick said she didn’t know Ham personally, but “I’m a Denfeld grad and know what he means to us. You track things like that. Denfeld Hunters all the way!”

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