Herrera bouncing back after injury, tragedy

Vikings guard Anthony Herrera endured a physically and emotionally painful season last year, but he refused to miss a game. Now he's back to practicing with the teammates he didn't want to let down while refusing to forget.

The Vikings likely have two new starters on their offensive line when the regular season opens. Massive tackle Phil Loadholt is expected to win the starting job at right tackle and John Sullivan is expected to be the starting center.

But in between those two players of different statures is a man who is looking for a new start of his own after a rough 2008 season.

Anthony Herrera battled an injury he kept under wraps and a personal loss very near to him. He played through the pain – physical in one instance and emotional in the other – without missing a game.

The first time the public knew about Herrera suffering a shoulder injury during the 2008 was when Vikings coach Brad Childress announced after the season was over that Herrera was one of the players that would have offseason surgery. The injury happened in the second preseason game and Herrera simply grinned, grimaced and blocked out the pain while blocking the opposition. Unfortunately, sleeping through the pain was nearly as difficult.

"I hurt it the second preseason game and I was just dealing with it," Herrera said. "It wasn't good, man. It was just every day and every night that I couldn't sleep on my right shoulder. I couldn't do anything on my right shoulder.

"It was just a full year of strictly just pain, every minute of the day. But the boys were counting on me, the coach was counting on me. The coach paid me and had me here for a reason, so I had to go out and perform."

Herrera didn't want to discuss the options he chose to help him endure the pain, saying only that "we had to do what we had to do."

And despite the pain the shoulder was causing him and the sleep it was costing him, he refused to let that price trickle down to the team. Throughout the rest of the 2008 preseason and for a full slate of regular-season games, and even a playoff appearance – the first since his rookie year – Herrera took his whacks in the trenches against the NFL's biggest defensive linemen.

He said he never considered surgery.

"Never. Coach and the team was counting on me," he said. "We had a goal to make it to the playoffs, so I couldn't quit. Everyone was counting on me."

Herrera wasn't able to get back into real football work until late in this spring's progression of organized team activities.

By early June, Herrera was back into lifting heavy weights and working on technique by punching bags. At that time, Vikings coach Brad Childress said Herrera was chomping at the bit to get back into a real football routine. Now that training camp is in full swing, so is Herrera.

However, his shoulder injury wasn't the only stinging setback he had to endure in 2008. He also spent most of the season coping with the cancer that had afflicted his older brother. In early December, his brother died, but even then Herrera refused to miss a game.

Despite his own pain, once again he refused to let down the team. Although he wasn't able to receive the pregame or postgame telephone calls from his brother that had become so routine, Herrera was there for his teammates.

"I would never wish it on anybody to have to put their brother into the ground. It's not a good thing. He was my biggest fan. Before the games, he would call me. Every Sunday after the games he would call. So it's rough," he said. "We have – we had – the same birthday (June 14), so I had to go through it a little bit more with the birthday that just went by. Every day is a new day and we just try to cope with it," Herrera said.

What else would a member of the USA Today All-Joe Team do? He'll cope with life's biggest challenges and continue to be there working alongside his teammates.

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