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Tapeh is happy, healthy and home in Minnesota

MANKATO, Minn. -- Thomas Tapeh lay in a hospital bed inside his apartment for six months, his right leg immobilized, his mind racing. Tapeh, who endured two rare foot injuries as a running back for

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MANKATO, Minn. -- Thomas Tapeh lay in a hospital bed inside his apartment for six months, his right leg immobilized, his mind racing.

Tapeh, who endured two rare foot injuries as a running back for the University of Minnesota, was facing an even more difficult recovery after suffering a dislocated right hip late in his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004. Now, with his career in jeopardy, Tapeh had ample opportunity to reflect on his life and his future while he lay bedridden.

"I had a lot of time to think about, 'Do I really want to do this? Why am I here? Why am I doing this?'" Tapeh said.

He said he found clarity through soul-searching and prayer, conquering another hardship in a life that has seen more than its share. But even Tapeh admits he's amazed by the outcome.

Nearly four years after his serious injury, Tapeh is healthy, happy and home. The former St. Paul Johnson High School star signed a five-year, $6 million contract with the Vikings this winter after spending four seasons with the Eagles.

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Tapeh is the starting fullback and lead blocker for one of the NFL's most dynamic talents, Adrian Peterson. And best of all, Tapeh is 100 percent recovered from a hip injury caused most frequently by serious car wrecks or a fall from great heights.

"It was a long road back," he said. "A lot of hard work."

Journey has its pain

Tapeh's life story is well-known among Minnesota football fans. Born in Liberia, he moved to the United States at age 9. He knew little English and even less about football.

He was freakishly athletic and, after being introduced to football, blossomed into one of the nation's top high school running backs. He signed with the Gophers, but his college career was marred by two serious foot injuries.

Despite the injuries and having to share the ball with future NFL standouts Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney as a senior, Tapeh was drafted by Philadelphia in the fifth round in 2004.

His rookie season ended in agony when he suffered the dislocated hip while being tackled with 28 seconds left in a Monday night game against the St. Louis Rams, struggling to extend a 13-yard gain after a pass reception.

"I knew it was bad because normally when you get tackled you bounce back up," he said. "But when I couldn't get up, I was like, 'What's going on? Why can't I get up?'"

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Tapeh said he asked the doctors to put his hip back into place while he was still on the field.

"They wanted to wait, but I said no," he said. "Do it now while I'm in pain. It can't get any worse. Put it in now. They held me down and kept pulling. That's why I was out there so long."

Injuries are a reality of football, but a dislocated hip is rare. Tapeh faced multiple surgeries and hours of rehabilitation before he could even consider playing football again. He spent the first six months basically confined to a hospital bed in his apartment.

"It was not so much (worrying) about the long road ahead," he said. "It's just the fact that your hip came out of place. That's not something you hear a lot."

Strength through faith

Tapeh credits his faith as the driving force. A devout Christian, he would do his rehab in the morning and then spend most afternoons at his church.

"Found out who I am, what I am, what the Bible is," he said. "It changed my life."

Tapeh missed the entire 2005 season and returned in 2006. Vikings coach Brad Childress was an assistant in Philadelphia at the time and witnessed Tapeh's recovery.

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"That was probably as bad an injury . . . I don't know if you've ever seen a hip dislocated," he said. "He's had great resolve."

Tapeh (6-1, 243 pounds) said his hip feels good. And, because he is familiar with Childress' West Coast offense from his days in Philadelphia, the learning curve is not as steep.

Tapeh has found peace off the field, too. He was married earlier this month and hopes to become a U.S. citizen later this year. He is in the process of completing the naturalization paperwork.

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