The Vikings put on full pads for the first time in training camp Monday. A few hours north of Mankato, Husain Abdullah, the team's starting free safety last season, sat in a car dealership as his rented minivan got a oil change and other service.
His internal clock can't ignore the fact training camp is underway, and he finds it difficult to shut off the competitive juices that flow with the start of football season.
"One of the best feelings is laying into somebody and knowing you got the best of him," he said, smiling.
Abdullah still loves football and keeps in touch with his former Vikings teammates, but he has chosen to pursue a different calling. He turned down a one-year contract offer from the Vikings this offseason in order to prepare for his Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Abdullah plans to make the hajj, the sacred pilgrimage that is one of five pillars of Islam, in October.
Abdullah's spirituality has always been a driving force in his life, but he experienced an emotional tug-of-war as he debated whether to play football or travel to Mecca this fall.
"This was the first time in life I just couldn't decide," he said. "It's like I had no control over the situation but all the control."
Ultimately, his faith took precedence over football. He put his football career on hold -- with no guarantees of resuming it -- and is traveling the country with his two older brothers on a goodwill trip during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Hamza, an eight-year NFL veteran who played for the Arizona Cardinals the past three seasons, and oldest brother Abbas joined Husain on a coast-to-coast tour of mosques during Ramadan.
Their plan is to visit 30 cities in 30 days, a total of 12,000 miles. They started in Los Angeles, worked their way up the West Coast and made stops in Boise, Salt Lake City, Denver and Omaha.
The brothers drove all night and reached the Twin Cities early Monday morning. They slept a few hours before visiting mosques in Eden Prairie and Bloomington. They take turns driving three-hour shifts.
"I understand why moms love minivans," Husain said. "Those things are awesome. You can load up a bunch of stuff. You get good miles-to-the-gallon. Everybody has leg room."
At each stop, they attend the evening meal when Muslims break their fast. The Abdullahs share their story and message with kids and those who supported them as NFL players. Their motto is, "Want for your brother what you want for yourself."
"You're not being facetious or fake or anything like that," Hamza said. "We just want to be good people."
They grew up in Southern California in a household with 12 children and modest means. Their father is a carpenter and handyman. Money was tight so the siblings shared clothes and always looked out for each other.
"We live in a world where unfortunately it's like, I've got to step over everybody to get to the top, instead of, I'm going to help you and we're going to achieve it together," Husain said. "This is your brother. If you see him doing good, you shouldn't be envious of him or jealous of him. You should be happy for him."
The brothers find enjoyment in helping others and trying to set a positive example. They served dinner at a homeless shelter during their Denver visit.
"It just put everything in perspective," Hamza said. "I miss football and training camp, but when I walked in those doors and saw those faces, it really humbled me. I said this is where I need to be right now."
They admit the reaction hasn't been all positive. Some people think they're crazy to jeopardize their NFL careers. The brothers make an effort to reach out and talk to those people, too.
"For us, this was just a pressing need," Husain said.
Husain and Hamza plan to resume training in Los Angeles in November after returning from Mecca. They will hold a workout for NFL scouts and hope that leads to a contract. If it doesn't and the window has closed, Husain understands that's a possibility, too. He wants to earn his master's degree in educational counseling after football, maybe start a business and learn the Arabic language.
"For me, I came into [the NFL] undrafted so I've already had an exit plan the whole time," he said.
Husain hopes he doesn't need that plan just yet. He overcame long odds just to make the Vikings roster, gradually working his way into the starting lineup. He admits he turned down "a good sum" from the Vikings, but he followed his heart. He hopes football is still an option when he returns.
"I didn't burn bridges," he said. "I have never gone against the grain. I've always done whatever I'm asked to do to the best of my ability."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org