CONROE, TEXAS – Vikings star Adrian Peterson entered a no contest plea Tuesday, admitting no guilt, to a child injury charge, largely dispensing with the criminal case that eviscerated his football season and still threatens his NFL future.

Peterson has been mostly out of sight since a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury indicted him in September on a single felony charge of injury to a child. He entered the no contest plea to a misdemeanor count of recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May while the Minnesota boy was visiting him at his home in a northern Houston suburb.

The 29-year-old running back smiled briefly as he stepped onto the courthouse steps after his plea in front of Judge Kelly Case, then turned somber. At the media microphones, he said, "I love my son more than any of you can imagine."

His plea didn't instantaneously resolve his status with the NFL and the Vikings. Through spokesman Brian McCarthy, the league issued a statement saying it is reviewing the court record, but had no timetable for determining Peterson's playing future. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said he would talk about Peterson when "it's appropriate to speak."

Neither Peterson nor his attorney Rusty Hardin answered questions, but Peterson signed a few autographs for well-wishers as he made his way through the throng to a black Cadillac Escalade awaiting him and his small entourage of family members. Peterson has maintained that he was disciplining his son in the same physical manner he was raised, not criminally harming the child.

As a condition of his plea, Peterson will pay a $4,000 fine. He must perform 80 hours of community service, half of which will be in the form of a public service announcement. He is expected to take parenting classes.

He also remains under court supervision for two years, meaning he has to meet monthly with a probation officer and face random drug tests. Before an earlier drug test, Peterson admitted to having smoked a little marijuana. District Attorney Brett Ligon said that issue "goes away" with Peterson's plea.

The running back also is free to travel to Minnesota.

If, however, Peterson is arrested in the coming two years, Ligon said the plea deal will be revoked and he will be prosecuted on the felony charge. Peterson "has a long way to go," Ligon said.

Hardin: 'A very good man'

The plea went down calmly and quietly in front of Case, taking less than 10 minutes. Spectators jammed into the back of the long courtroom couldn't hear most of what was said up at the bench by the lawyers, the judge and Peterson.

The running back spoke softly, his arms at his sides.

In his remarks afterward on the courthouse steps, Ligon brought up the mother of Peterson's child, saying she is "doing an excellent job" of raising the boy as a single parent, that she approves of the plea deal and that she wants her son to resume contact with his father.

For Ligon, the case wasn't about sending Peterson to jail, but making him a better parent. Ligon said he hopes Peterson will do better, that he "never ducked what the incident was" and had taken responsibility.

Hardin called his client a "very good man" and a "very good father" who "wants to prove it" to society.

"Adrian wants to get on with his life and his relationship with his son," Hardin said.

A tough case for fans, too

The ugly charge against Peterson proved a difficult one to confront for Minnesota fans accustomed to the running back's spectacular talent on the field and fan-friendly, upbeat public persona off it. His comeback a couple of years ago from major knee surgery enhanced his stratospheric reputation for physical ability and resilience.

But leaked photographs of welts on the back of the child's legs, buttocks and back showed painful injuries. Ligon said the grand jury that heard that the case was mindful of the collateral damage an indictment would cause to Peterson and his family, but was troubled by the extent of the child's injuries.

The Vikings, too, had difficulty managing the situation. Team executives benched Peterson for one Sunday game, then reinstated him the following day. Faced with corporate and public criticism, the team announced Peterson would go on the NFL commissioner's exempt list.

The 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player has been receiving his $11.7 million annual salary while watching from home. He has missed the past eight games.

Teammates said they would welcome Peterson back.

"We all know the kind of person he is, and we've stood behind him this whole time," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "Anytime you can have a veteran back in that locker room, the leader that he is in the locker room, out on the practice field would be huge for us."

Veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said Peterson won't have to do anything special to get back into the locker room.

"As far as what's happened, it's his business," Greenway said. "He's got to handle it. And we're here to do our jobs, so that's what we're focused on."

Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said he had spent only a little time with Peterson.

''But as far as the other players have told me, he's nothing but a great guy," Bridgewater said. "If he does come back, I'm pretty sure everyone will still take him in."

That Peterson still has fans was evident at the courthouse. As the star left the building, one fan in a furry panther suit held a sign that in gold glitter "Free" on one side and "AP" on the flip.

Some fans shouted, "God bless you, AP!"

Brett Fleishman of Houston was in traffic court earlier in the day when he heard about Peterson's afternoon appearance. He ran out to buy a football and returned to successfully seek an autograph.

"I said, 'Thank you' and wished him good luck. He said, 'Thank you very much,' " Fleishman said.

He said he plans to put the ball on his mantle next to those autographed by running backs Earl Campbell and Gale Sayers.

In Hennepin County, where the 4-year-old boy lives, a spokesman for the county attorney said an order for protection involving Peterson and the boy will be reviewed and eventually a hearing will be scheduled.

Staff writers Matt Vensel and Brandon Stahl contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747