EAGAN, Minn. -- Tony Radloff stood patiently on the sidelines at Minnesota Vikings training camp on Friday afternoon, Aug. 2, while wearing a C.J. Ham jersey.
“I told him if you make the team, I’ll buy your jersey,” Radloff said, recalling a promise he made a few years ago. “Now, I’m hoping he can sign it.”
Radloff, a Duluth police officer who coached Ham in high school and had a guest pass on Friday, would have to wait as Ham was busy signing autographs for the masses at the other end of TCO Performance Center in Eagan, the only Vikings player signing autographs on that end. Ham said he recognized a voice in the crowd, that of another one of his former football coaches, Dan DuPay, and he felt obliged to go over there. Soon, the Duluth native was signing autographs for everybody, reaching high along the rail to grab whatever fans handed down to him.
Radloff, who was with three other Duluth police officers, said that’s just C.J. being C.J.
“As good as an athlete as he is, he’s an even better human being, just a phenomenal human being,” Radloff said. “You’ll never find a more humble, respectful, hard working and dedicated individual. Success hasn't changed him one bit. He still remembers us old guys here, and he’s very gracious. He’s a class act.”
Ham, who turned 26 on July 22, isn’t one to rest on his laurels. That’s just not in his DNA. So when the Vikings brought in another fullback in rookie Khari Blasingame from Vanderbilt for this year's training camp, Ham welcomed the competition, just as he has in previous years.
“Competition makes us all better,” he said.
Ham signed a one-year, $645,000 contract with the Vikings earlier this year but would eventually like a longer-term deal with more financial stability.
“It’s a big year for me to go out and do something special and hopefully get that contract," Ham said. “But no matter what contract I get, you should always feel like you have to earn it every year. In this business, you never know what’s going to happen. You can be up one second and down the next, so you have to go out there with the mindset that you’re going to earn your job.”
And so far Ham has done just that.
Ham made the Vikings practice squad in 2016 and was promoted to the active roster in December of that season. The next year he transitioned from running back to fullback full time and made the team. Last year he had a career-high 11 receptions for 85 yards while continuing to be valuable in other ways, being named the Vikings’ Special Teams Player of the Year after recording seven special teams tackles on the season.
“Specials teams is something I’ve made a name for myself, and I’m going to do it my entire career,” Ham said.
Minnesota brought in a new special teams coordinator this season in Marwan Maalouf, and so far, Maalouf likes what he sees from the 5-foot-11, 235-pound Duluth Denfeld graduate.
“Guys like C.J. are extremely valuable,” Maalouf said. “We can put him in a bunch of different positions. ... and if guys are ready and can play multiple positions, that allows us to still put the best people on the field (when hit with adversity) and not have a drop off at one position or the other. C.J. really helps with that. He’s excellent.”
Ham and his wife, Stephanie, whom he met while at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., live in Rosemount, Minn. They welcomed their second child, Stella, eight months ago.
“I’m definitely loved, and it’s nice to be home,” Ham said.
Ham is also feeling more loved in the Vikings’ new offensive scheme, a two-back system that should put a higher priority on running the football under new assistant head coach/offensive advisor Gary Kubiak. While Ham only had six carries for eight yards last season, look for that to increase this year.
“A guy like C.J. … gives us a chance to be flexible,” Kubiak said. “We can run a two-back offense or a one-back offense with the same personnel on the field.
“C.J. gives us a chance to do some things on third down, too, because he’s got a chance to help you catching the ball and protecting the quarterback.”
Ham certainly seems like the type coach Mike Zimmer would love. Zimmer is always preaching blocking, even from his wide receivers, and that’s another area Ham excels at in addition to being a good teammate and community member. He is often helping with fundraisers either in the Twin Cities or back home in Duluth.
Ham and Adam Thielen, another Minnesota native from an NCAA Division II program, Minnesota State-Mankato, often have more guests in attendance at Vikings training camp and stick around longer to accommodate them.
Ham does it with a smile on his face, even after practice went late Friday in muggy conditions with temperatures in the mid-80s.
“It’s humanly impossible to say a bad word about him,” a security guard said. “He’s the last one off the field every day. He signs for every kid who comes up. If you’ve ever seen 96 Questions with (former Vikings defensive end) Brian Robison, he asked a bunch of guys on the team, ‘If you had a sister, and you had to let one guy on the team date your sister, who would it be? And C.J.’s name kept coming up. That just tells you right there.”