A 40-yard dash in Phoenix held some of the most important steps in Nick Truesdell’s zigzag route to the Vikings.
“Before I could even get a drink of water,” Truesdell recalled, “like 15 to 20 scouts surrounded me.”
That’s what happens when you’re a 6-6, 252-pound tight end and run a 4.59.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and assistant GM George Paton were among the Vikings reps to personally greet Truesdell after his strong workout in March at the NFL’s pro player combine, where up to 150 players annually try to salvage or prolong their NFL dreams.
Truesdell, 27, faces long odds to even make the Vikings roster, but he’s already traveled a long way to get to this point.
He is seven years removed from legal issues, which included stints in multiple jail cells before his 21st birthday.
“One day I was sitting in the jail cell and was like man, this is not me,” Truesdell said at this week’s OTAs. “This is not what I need to be doing. I knew I needed to take it seriously and from there I did.”
The winding path of football stops eventually led to a stretch of 40 yards under the Arizona sun. It took 4.6 seconds for Truesdell to claim the full attention of two top Vikings evaluators.
“I just got a feel, the look in their eye,” Truesdell said. “They came up to me and were excited. They were kind of like, ‘Man we found a special guy it seems like.’ ”
Vikings going big
So Truesdell, on a one-year, veteran-minimum $465,000 contract, chose the Vikings over a handful of other teams offering him his second NFL deal ever. The first contract, last summer in Indianapolis, lasted just three days, during which he began a position switch from Arena Football League receiver to NFL tight end. Also a draw for Truesdell was the chance to play alongside fellow Cincinnati native Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings see Truesdell as a jumbo-sized tight end who could pair with Rudolph and cause problems downfield for defenses. They also drafted 6-6 tight end Bucky Hodges out of Virginia Tech in the sixth round.
“We wanted to get another pass-catching tight end that can maybe move,” Spielman said, “where [offensive coordinator Pat] Shurmur can put him in the slot or out wide and try to create mismatches.”
That this chance, these evaluations, are taking place for Truesdell seemed unfathomable not that long ago. He’d gone from earning a scholarship at the University of Cincinnati to a courtroom. That’s not the type of past NFL teams overlook.
Eight years ago Truesdell was dismissed by the Bearcats for stealing from the university bookstore. It was just the first in a handful of arrests for theft, breaking and entering and drug trafficking.
His decision to get straight came in a holding cell at the Hamilton County Justice Center in downtown Cincinnati, just 12 miles west from where Truesdell was named a star receiver at Anderson High School. He was about to plead guilty to a felony charge of trafficking marijuana, which carried a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.
But he caught a break when the judge decided against a prison sentence and ordered a two-month stint in the River City Correctional Center, where Truesdell said he re-evaluated his inner circle.
“I had to cut some people out of my life,” Truesdell said. “That was probably the hardest thing I had was, being a hometown guy, I had so many friends — guys I thought were my friends — hanging around. Being around these people all the time, I kind of got away from myself.”
He then transferred to Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College. His time there was short-lived, though. He tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his first game of what would be the program’s final season before shutting down. He moved in with his mother and two little sisters, working odd jobs — like security at a car dealership and valeting — while avoiding the 9-to-5 living so he could take classes toward an accounting degree at Cincinnati State and pursue an elusive football career.
“There were times when it was hard,” Truesdell said. “Obviously a lot of people, even some family members were kind of like, ‘You know eventually you’ve got to decide to do something, you can’t do this forever.’ ”
Keeping a dream alive
A relentless chase took Truesdell across the country between NFL tryouts and brief runs with AFL and Indoor Football League teams, including the now-defunct Bemidji Axemen. His best season came in 2015 with the AFL’s Spokane Shock when he caught 23 touchdowns in 16 games for then-coach Andy Olson.
“When I was in the AFL, he was the best physical specimen receiver I think the league has ever seen,” said Olson, who spent five seasons in Spokane. “It just took some coaching, took some learning and going through the processes with him, but the thing about Nick is he’ll do what you ask him to do.”
The Colts spurred Truesdell’s latest chance last summer when Indy wanted to try the big AFL receiver at tight end. Truesdell said he was unsure if he could gain weight and maintain the speed that separated him from others.
Fifteen pounds and a year later, that question was answered. Truesdell’s 4.59-second time would’ve ranked sixth among all the 20- to 21-year-old tight ends at this spring’s scouting combine. His persistence and rare ability brought Truesdell to Minnesota, where he gets his first extended NFL audition and an uphill climb at a new position. If the Vikings keep four tight ends on the active roster and practice squad, the reality is Truesdell is likely battling Kyle Carter for a final practice squad spot.
“A lot of people don’t get the second chances I’ve gotten, so I’m definitely excited,” Truesdell said. “I told [the Vikings] I’m not one of those guys who just wants to make it. I think I can be an elite player in the league and be great.”