With a roster that has been trending younger each of the last two years, two Minnesota Vikings that are still relatively young and clearly in the prime of their careers are providing examples of rare work ethic and dedication.
What has followed them this year is a rise to the top of their respective charts in the NFL. It's no surprise that Adrian Peterson is leading the league in rushing with 1,128 yards … until, of course, you consider what he had to go through the last 10½ months to get there. And, like Peterson, Percy Harvin is getting rewarded for persistence and toughness as one of the leading receivers in the game.
Flash back to six months ago and the picture wasn't of Harvin running slants and bubble screens, and it wasn't of Peterson running over defenders. The two of them were running the hill – repeatedly – behind the practice fields at Winter Park in the warm summer sun.
They put in their time rehabbing – Harvin a shoulder that had been surgically repaired and Peterson a knee that had two ligaments shredded.
"I think Adrian is an inspiration for our entire squad, our entire organization. What he has accomplished, in a lot of ways, is mind-boggling in so many ways," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "To come back from major knee surgery – most guys when they do come back, they're a shadow of themselves if they make it back and usually their second year is when it kicks and they're closer to what they were before. For Adrian to be leading the league in rushing right now and doing it in such a dominant fashion right now, it is an inspiration to our entire team.
"It does lift up, not only our offense, but our entire team. It's great to see. No one deserves it more than he. He's worked extremely hard, put in a lot of time to get back to where he is. Credit to a lot of hard work by Adrian, but he is an inspiration to all of us."
Watching Peterson work this summer was a human – almost superhuman – display of determination. From his initial show in front of the media in April, when he was jumping on top of boxes for a plyometric workout, to running the hill at Winter Park in May and June to toiling under the intense sun on a side field at training camp in Mankato, he has consistently been a picture of resolute determination.
One training camp morning stood out. With the temperature in the 90s, Peterson emerged and went through an intense workout that lasted more than an hour as he criss-crossed the field alternately working on flexibility, stability exercises and pulling weights behind him. Last week, Peterson was asked if he was feeling worn down 10 weeks into the season. He said doesn't get burned out during the season because of his offseason routine. It's easy to believe him after seeing what he went through.
He's on pace to exceed 1,800 yards and have the best season of his career. He already has 13 rushes of 20 yards or more and the next closest in the NFL, C.J. Spiller, has eight.
"To be as dominant as he is at this point in the season, the 10-week point, to rush back-to-back weeks close to 200 yards, that's pretty impressive," Frazier said. "We're all familiar with stories of guys who've had this injury. Some make it back, some don't make it back. And if they do come back, there's not very many who were as good as they were before."
Peterson actually is better than ever.
That's true with Harvin, too. While his surgery didn't require the rehab of Peterson's, Harvin hasn't backed down from contact. He can run away from defenders or lower the shoulder on them if he doesn't have the escape angle.
But Harvin has shown time and again how much he is willing and determined to play through pain. An ankle injury two weeks ago that required crutches the day after wasn't enough to keep him going back in after the initial injury. He finished the game … and then four days later could barely make it 10 yards across the locker room as he hobbled through.
Harvin is an inspiration to teammates for his toughness, Peterson for his work ethic, his generosity – he pledged $1 million to the University of Oklahoma – and his humility.
Frazier said he isn't sure he's ever seen a superstar as humble as Peterson and he's probably right. As successful as Peterson is as athlete, it's hard not to be impressed with his attitude off the field. He knows his star shines brightly, but he often takes the time to do the little things away from the cameras, especially if it involves a kid with a special request.
It's hard to think of a better example of leadership on the team, although he isn't always speaking up.
"Adrian will pick and choose his points to be a vocal leader, and I think that is the best kind of leader," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "Guys who are always talking and not really doing it on the field aren't the best leaders. But guys that play like Adrian on the field, and when they do say something it really means a lot."
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is fortunate to the have the production and determination of Peterson and Harvin on the field. Vikings fans are lucky to see their efforts on and off.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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