Former Stanford RB Gerhart A Determined Rookie Viking
By Brian Anthony Price
Toby Gerhart's drive is no accident. His father, also his high school football coach at Norco High School (Norco, Calif.), molded Toby into the workhorse that he is today.
"My father demanded perfection. During high school football games [the other coaches and players] tried to keep us apart because we'd always be at each other's throats on the sidelines," Gerhart said.
Coming from a passionate family that emphasized both athletics and academics, it's no wonder Stanford was Gerhart's top choice. As Norco valedictorian, Gerhart was aiming high.
"In addition to being such a prestigious school, Stanford offered me a chance to play both football and baseball. I also wanted to go to a major football program where I felt I could make a difference," he said.
Making Stanford football relevant again was an uphill climb. They were 5-7 the year before Gerhart arrived. His freshman year was dismal. Stanford struggled to a disappointing 1-11 season in which Gerhart started only one game.
With nowhere to go but up, Stanford entered the 2007 season under the guidance of new head coach Jim Harbaugh. After a tough opening loss to UCLA, Gerhart started as running back against San Jose State. However, the start was his last major contribution of the season.
"It was my first major college game. I had rushed for 140 yards and scored a TD and things were going great," Gerhart said. "I made a cut on a routine run and felt a pop in my knee and that was it. Season over."
But by his junior year, Gerhart came back stronger.
"I entered 2008 knowing how fortunate I was. A lot of athletes never come back from a major knee injury," he said. "Football is a rough game, but I wanted to make the most of my second chance."
He became only the fifth player in Stanford history to rush for over 1000 yards and also racked up 15 touchdowns in the process. Stanford gained a win on the previous season's total, finishing 5-7.
Gerhart's baseball career as the Cardinal center fielder was just as impressive. He was offered a chance to play professionally, but turned it down.
"It would have been pretty sad to go to Stanford for three years and not get my degree. Plus, I knew my siblings were all looking up to me," he said.
Following his example, sisters Kelsey and Teagan play softball at Stanford. The third triplet, Whitley, plays softball for Cal Poly. And brother Garth continued the Pac-10 tradition, playing offensive lineman at Arizona State. Toby's youngest brother Coltin is a rising quarterback at Norco High School.
In 2009, Toby Gerhart had one of the most spectacular seasons in Stanford history, amassing school records in rushing yards in a season (1,871), touchdowns in a season (28) and most touchdowns for a career (44). He fell a mere 29 points shy of winning the Heisman Trophy over Mark Ingram. Gerhart did win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. The hardware is on display in Stanford's Hall of Fame.
As a senior tri-captain, he also helped lead Stanford to its first top-25 national ranking and bowl berth since 2001. Although it was a losing effort to Oklahoma in the Brut Sun Bowl, Gerhart rushed for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite the disappointment of losing his final game at Stanford, he finished what he had started: Stanford was back.
"It took four years, [laughs] but now they're rolling and Stanford is on the map," Gerhart said.
Stanford is still thriving under the leadership of current Heisman candidate Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh. Gerhart is proud to have left Stanford in such good standing.
"I've sent a few text messages to Coach, one was to wish the team good luck before the Notre Dame game. He passed it on to the team before the game and I think that helped get them pumped up," he said.
Stanford went on to beat Notre Dame 37-14 and is currently No. 12 in the Associated Press poll with a 5-1 overall record.
Since being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the mid-second round of the 2010 NFL draft, Gerhart has had to adjust to a backup role for All-Pro Adrian Peterson. The workload is still the same, but reps are few and far between.
"As a rookie I have to be patient. With experience comes more opportunity. I'm playing behind one of the all-time great backs, so I'm trying to learn as much as I possibly can," Gerhart said.
Peterson has been a mentor and ally.
"One day I got my butt kicked in pass protection and he came right over and told me to keep my head up. He's helped me in making better reads. Everyday I learn more and more from him," he said.
The current Vikings season is still young, and while Gerhart and his teammates aren't in the position they expected, their outlook is positive.
"Of course we don't want to be 1-3, but there's a lot of games left to play," Gerhart said. "We have some key division games and with Randy Moss in the mix, our offense is only going to get better. "