Matt Asiata was standing on a sideline at the Vikings fieldhouse Thursday, after the team had finished a special teams drill. A reporter asked: “Who were the Omaha Nighthawks?’’
Asiata crinkled his forehead and said: “No idea. Why are you asking?’’
Answer: “Your football résumé indicates you spent time with the Nighthawks.’’
Asiata smiled and said: “Oh, yeah … that was when the CFL was trying to establish franchises in the States. Omaha was one. I was there a couple of weeks in 2011 on a tryout, then the Vikings called and I came here.’’
The running back had played at Utah. The Utes had defeated Alabama in a Sugar Bowl during Asiata’s time there.
Asiata made it through 2011 training camp with the Vikings. “I was on the practice squad for the first week, and then was cut,’’ he said. “I went back home to Utah and got a job driving a forklift in a big warehouse.’’
The reporter pointed to the fieldhouse roof and said: “Big, like this?’’
Asiata said: “Yeah, except we were moving boxes of tools, not chasing footballs.’’
James Saxon was the running backs assistant for coach Leslie Frazier. He had recommended Asiata the first time, and he helped convince the Vikings to give Asiata another shot in the offseason of 2012.
Asiata showed the extra effort a long-shot requires. He ran past the safeties every time he was tossed a short pass in a drill. He went full-bore on special teams at all times.
Special teams allowed him to play in 16 games in 2012 while touching the ball on offense four times. He had third-down duty in 2013. He had 164 carries and 44 receptions when Adrian Peterson was absent for 15 games in 2014.
Last year, it was back to special teams and spare duties, but now Peterson likely will miss the rest of the season. Asiata becomes vital to the offense again, along with Jerick McKinnon and perhaps newcomer Ronnie Hillman.
There is no celebrating for Asiata. “Adrian and I are friends,’’ he said. “I’ve probably spent more time in meetings with him than anyone. It’s another setback he will overcome.’’
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Unheralded running backs who stuck around with the Vikings:
Leroy Hoard (1996-99): “If you need 1 yard, I’ll get you 3. If you need 5 yards, I’ll get you 3.’’— Hoard.
Jim Lindsey (1966-72): “Politically, Lindsey is to the right of Genghis Khan.’’ — Fran Tarkenton.
Allen Rice (1984-90): “We’ve had that since camp and finally used it.’’ — Anthony Carter, on 10-yard TD halfback pass from Rice in the playoff rout of the Saints.
Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.