Toby Gerhart was a senior running back at Stanford in 2009. He rushed 343 times for 1,871 yards in 13 games. He also caught 11 passes for 157 yards. That put his totals for his final college season at 354 scrimmage plays, 2,028 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns.

This workhorse season lifted Gerhart to a second-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting, narrowly behind Alabama running back Mark Ingram.

The counsel Gerhart was getting from an agent was that San Diego and Houston were the most likely destinations for him in the 2010 draft.

“San Diego traded up to get [running back] Ryan Mathews early in the first round, which took care of that,” Gerhart said. “When it got to Houston’s turn in the second round, the phone rang at our place and everyone started shouting: ‘Houston … it’s Houston.’

“I answered and the person on the other end said, ‘Toby, this is Rick Spielman from the Vikings. We made a trade and we’re going to draft you.’ ”

It took a moment for Gerhart to say to himself: “The Vikings … don’t they have Adrian Peterson? Why would they want me?”

Three-plus years and three seasons later, Gerhart might still ask himself that question, but certainly not in public.

Gerhart has played in 47 games for the Vikings with 240 rushes for 1,022 yards and 64 receptions for 512 yards. The totals are 304 scrimmage plays, 1,534 yards and six touchdowns (three apiece rushing and receiving).

As a senior at Stanford, Gerhart averaged 27 touches, 156 yards and 2.2 touchdowns per game. As an NFL backup, Gerhart has averaged 6.3 touches, 34 yards and one-eighth of a touchdown per game.

And now Adrian Peterson is talking about increasing his rushing total from 2,097 yards to a record-shattering 2,500 yards in 2013.

Where does that leave you?

Gerhart smiled slightly and said: “Who knows? I’ll take what I can get.”

He was talking after Wednesday’s morning walk-through at Winter Park. The Vikings will open Sunday in Detroit, and in-house, the expectations for 2013 are more than the 10-6 regular season and a first-round playoff exit.

There will be contributions for Gerhart to make in Ford Field — presumably, blocking or receiving in third-and-several-yards situations. He relishes those chances, while being 100 percent in tune with the Vikings as an offense … as a franchise, really.

“Adrian is the heart of our team, the identity of our team,” Gerhart said. “Our team runs through Adrian.”

Gerhart’s most consistent work for the Vikings came over the final six weeks of the 2011 season. First, Peterson missed three games because of a sprained ankle, returned for one, and then blew out a knee during an upset victory in Washington.

Vikings fans still complain Peterson shouldn’t have been playing in a game where winning meant losing a chance to draft either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.

As it turned out, Toby had much more to do with the upset than Adrian, with 11 carries and a career-high 109 yards. In five games as go-to runner, Gerhart had 83 carries for 391 yards.

And then Peterson made the astounding comeback in 2012, and Gerhart had his lowest pro totals with 50 carries and 20 receptions.

This is the final season of Gerhart’s contract. He could be a fairly coveted free agent in the 2014 class.

“All that matters is this season,” he said. “I’ll be going in on third downs for Adrian, trying to help us win. If I happen to put the right stuff on film while doing my job for the Vikings, that’s OK.”

Again, Gerhart paused and said: “Maybe I’ll be here my whole career, backing up Adrian.”

That would be fine with Leslie Frazier.

“Toby could start for a lot of teams … he knows that and we know that,” the head coach said. “Yet, he’s accepted the role of playing behind the best running back in the league.

“That’s very unusual to see from a player with as much talent as Toby. Not once has he come into my office and said, ‘I have to be a bigger part of the offense.’

“Toby’s an amazing team player. I have to tell you … I love the guy.”

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com