Minnesota Vikings: Gerhart's got the touch

NORCO, Calif. -- The birth announcement in the local newspaper trumpeted more than Toby Gerhart's arrival into the world in late March 1987. The notice -- published in the sports section -- was addressed to the town's longtime football coach and ...

NORCO, Calif. -- The birth announcement in the local newspaper trumpeted more than Toby Gerhart's arrival into the world in late March 1987.

The notice -- published in the sports section -- was addressed to the town's longtime football coach and predicted the first-born child of two former star athletes would someday join his program.

There's a prospect for the Cougars who just moved into the area. He's 8 pounds, 6 ounces and 21 inches tall. Toby should be ready to join the Cougars in 2002.

Cute for sure, but not even parents with the grandest dreams could have predicted the mark the Gerharts' baby boy would leave on this community 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

"I don't know how to say this," said his father, Todd Gerhart, "but he's always been good at everything."


The Vikings are banking on that trend to continue after they traded their third-round pick and moved up in the second round to select the Stanford running back in the NFL draft in April. Gerhart is a hard-charging, athletic power back who could shoulder some of the third-down workload that Chester Taylor handled before leaving for Chicago in free agency.

Every rookie faces his own adjustment period, but Gerhart's history suggests he'll carve out a significant role at some point.

Eye-popping numbers

In high school, his 9,662 career rushing yards set the California state record and are third-best nationally. He also was named one of the top 50 baseball prospects in the nation as a senior and had in-home visits with roughly half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams in the event he turned professional.

Though he played three seasons of baseball at Stanford, Gerhart ultimately saw his future in football and completed his college career as the school's second all-time leading rusher. He finished as the runner-up in Heisman Trophy voting last season after leading the nation with 1,871 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns.

Gerhart's performance in the classroom is even more impressive. He was valedictorian of his high school class of 743 students and made straight A's from grade school through high school. The streak ended in college when he got his first B. Gerhart posted a 3.25 cumulative grade-point average at Stanford and will graduate later this month with a degree in management science and engineering.

He took a 21-credit class load last fall. His classes: integral calculus, high technology entrepreneurship, introduction to optimization, investment science and introduction to archaeology.

Gerhart's success in both arenas laid a foundation for his five younger siblings, all of whom are following a similar trail. His brother Garth is the starting center on Arizona State's football team and graduated high school with a 3.85 grade-point average.


Then came his triplet sisters. Kelsey and Teagan are freshmen at Stanford and play softball. Whitley plays softball at Cal Poly. Kelsey also was Norco's valedictorian, Teagan was salutatorian and Whitley finished in the top 10 of their class.

The baby of the family is Coltin, a 200-pound eighth-grader who makes straight A's and likely will be Norco High's starting quarterback this fall.

The entire family credits Toby for setting a high standard, and he did so without a hint of pretentiousness. He can count on one hand the number of times he showed even the slightest celebration demonstration on the field and admits he felt "weird" after getting swept up in the moment on a touchdown run in college and doing a high-step into the end zone. That's not the image he worked hard to project.

"I was the oldest so I just felt that I have to set the right example, do things the right way," he said.

Welcome to

Horsetown U.S.A.

With roughly 25,000 residents, Norco is known affectionately as "Horsetown U.S.A." The town has few sidewalks or curbs. Instead, there are horse trails and hitching posts outside stores and restaurants. Horses graze in plots adjacent to homes in neighborhood after neighborhood, including the Gerharts'.

"It's different, that's for sure," Toby said. "Old-school horse town."


Todd and Lori grew up in Norco and were star athletes in high school. Lori was an all-conference basketball player. Todd was a star running back and earned a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton. He played in the USFL several seasons and spent one week in Vikings training camp in 1986.

"I remember getting run over by Chris Doleman," Todd said.

The Gerharts returned home and settled down to raise a family after Todd's playing days. Todd took over as Norco's head football coach when Toby was in high school. Lori teaches special education in the school district.

At one point, the Gerharts had five kids in high school. They all played multiple sports, and the family has a blue van with 200,000 miles on it as evidence.

The family room on one side of their rambler houses trophies, plaques and other honors accumulated by their children. Toby's Doak Walker Award and Heisman Trophy finalist trophy sit on the floor. Medals hang from the ceiling. The room looks like an athletic shrine.

"Our family was definitely sports-oriented," Teagan said. "We were always at each other's games."

Competition permeated the house. If one of the children came home with a B on a test or paper, the others would tape it to the refrigerator, just to drive home the point.

That friendly family competition remains. Kelsey is taking a social psychology class at Stanford this quarter. Toby took the same class, so naturally he wanted to know how she did on her first mid-term.


"He's like, 'What did you get?'" Kelsey said. "He said, 'You better not beat 92 percent.' I was like, 'Oh my goodness.'"

The only thing stronger than their sibling competition is their sibling bond. The Gerhart kids are extremely close and protective of one another. Their parents say jealousy is not part of their DNA.

Garth, who is 18 months younger than Toby, is left-handed but he swings a baseball bat right-handed because he wanted to "mirror Toby." When the triplets were young and needed their hair braided, Toby jumped in and did it. Today, the siblings stay connected through regular iChats.

"You couldn't ask for a better role model to look up to as a big brother," Kelsey said. "We wanted to follow in the same footsteps."

His influence hasn't changed as his star has risen. Toby hangs out with Kelsey and Teagan regularly on campus and buys them a late-night dinner once a week.

"They tell me about their freshman experience," he said.

He is sharing in that experience this quarter. Toby is taking an abs-and-glutes class with Kelsey, even though he is one of the only males in a class of 35.

"The first day I walked in there I was like, 'Nah, I'm leaving,'" he said. "I thought it was going to be like sit-ups and push-ups. But they started off like jazzercise. It was dancing. But then it got pretty serious. It's actually a good little workout."


'Great heart and

great toughness'

Like most athletic prodigies, Gerhart demonstrated his talent at an early age and was the leader of the pack. But one stretch during his sophomore season at Norco was particularly revealing. Wildfires in Southern California forced Norco to play a condensed schedule because of postponements. Gerhart rushed for 1,042 yards and 10 touchdowns in leading his team to three consecutive victories in 10 days.

He concluded that stretch by rushing for 315 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries against rival Corona High despite a pregame mishap.

"I put a bunch of Icy Hot on my legs before the game," he said. "I put too much on and pulled my (pads) on over the top of it and my legs were on fire. On the bus they were practically burning. When I got to Corona High, I had to go into the bathroom and rinse myself off in the sink."

Gerhart had a similar stretch -- minus the Icy Hot -- in his final five games at Stanford, which launched him into the Heisman race. He rushed for 877 yards and 15 touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry against Oregon, USC, California, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

He scorched Southern California with 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns, a performance made all the more rewarding considering the Trojans did not recruit him as a tailback in high school.

"He's just a terrific runner with a great heart and great toughness," said USC athletic director Mike Garrett, the 1965 Heisman Trophy winner. "That's traditional of USC backs, but he surpassed us this year because we didn't have anybody run like him."


Gerhart (6-foot, 231 pounds) is built like a tank, but he also displayed enough burst to break long runs in college. He said his vision and balance are his two greatest strengths. He has powerful legs, which allow him to bounce off defenders and maintain his balance as he fights for more yards. Those plays became such a common occurrence that Stanford's coaches created a nickname: MDG.

"Mom, Dad, God," Gerhart said.

In other words, you can't teach it.

"He's really light on his feet," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He made dozens of runs where it was blocked for 5 yards, he gets hit at 6, and all of sudden he's out free going for 30, 40. It was amazing."

Harbaugh, however, prefers to measure Gerhart's impact on the program with a more global perspective. He points to specific moments like the exchange he had this winter when he returned a rental car at the Dallas airport at 6 a.m. The worker recognized Harbaugh even though he had his hoodie pulled over his head.

"The guy stopped me and said, 'You know what I love about your team?'" Harbaugh recalled. "'That Toby Gerhart, every time I heard him interviewed he always gave credit to his offensive line or his quarterback. I really love that.'"

That story doesn't surprise those who know Gerhart best.

"I think one reason everyone likes him is because he's so simple," Todd Gerhart said. "He's just a guy. Very authentic. Very simple."

So simple, in fact, that Gerhart said he rarely gets stressed about anything, even the start of a new chapter in his life.

"I'm real laid-back, easy-going," he said. "I prepare hard and I have faith that I'm doing things the right way and that everything will work out."

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