“I was like, ‘Twenty-five-hundred, huh? … That dude’s not coming off the field ever this year.’”
It’s easy to forget that the last time Gerhart had a chance to be an every-down force, he was a headline stealer. Like Peterson, he is a former Heisman Trophy runner-up, completing his senior season at Stanford in 2009 with 343 carries, 1,913 yards and 28 touchdowns.
In his best game, he gashed Oregon for 223 yards and three TDs on 38 rushes.
Last season? He had 50 carries for 169 yards. That in a year that began with everyone thinking he’d be a workhorse early as Peterson worked back from his torn ACL.
“I worked so hard all offseason preparing to be the guy,” Gerhart says. “I think everyone was expecting career highs for me in every category. It turned out to be the exact opposite.”
Lost in the celebration of the superstar’s amazing recovery was the anxiety of the forgotten man. Gerhart’s impatience peaked in Week 3 when he lost two fumbles in a minute and a half when called on to close out a 24-13 upset of San Francisco.
“That was a byproduct of being a frustrated runner,” Gerhart says. “No way around it. In that four-minute situation, we’re taught to get what we can and shoot down to the ground. Don’t try to make a play. For me, I was getting my first carries in a while so I was trying to make something happen. … That was my nightmare game.”
Gerhart always has accepted his role with Vikings coach Leslie Frazier labeling his No. 2 running back “a class guy,” “the ultimate team player,” and “one of those guys you’ll always pull for.”
Still, the raw numbers sometimes annoy Gerhart.
At Indianapolis: Five carries, 15 yards. Chicago: Three carries, 17 yards. At Houston: Eight for 31.
So often he’s called on as a situational sub, encouraged to get a just a few small chunks. He knows he’s a back who gets better as his workload increases, bright enough to solve defenses, rugged enough to wear down tacklers.
Gerhart chuckles thinking about the rough first quarter Peterson had in St. Louis last December. Eight rushes for 8 yards. Then came an 82-yard touchdown burst.
“Now he’s averaging 10 yards per carry and everything’s great,” Gerhart says. “For me, sometimes it’s two carries. You get the zero and the two. And that’s it.
“I hear it all the time from my buddies. ‘Stinks you only got two carries. But, hey, you’re backing up Adrian Peterson.’ Like it’s some sort of awesome consolation prize just because it’s Adrian.”
No wonder Gerhart’s dad, Todd, always has his cell phone ready, the one outlet Toby can always turn to for reassurance. More often than not, though, it’s a son persuading his dad that all will ultimately be OK.
“It’s funny,” Todd says. “He sells it to me. ‘My time will come. I’ll get my shot.’ I just listen. He’s telling it to me, I think, for his own psychotherapy.”
When the disenchantment rises, Gerhart reminds himself of the thousands of players who had similar NFL dreams but never stuck around this long. He counts his blessings that he’s healthy and able to work daily with the best player on the planet.
Naturally, he’ll peek around the league.