Alumnus C.J. Ham jumps from Division II to NFL
According to the NCAA, only 1.5 percent of all college football players advance to the NFL.
Less than one in 10 of those players start in Division II programs.
C.J. Ham beat the odds.
After five years of playing with the Augustana Vikings, Ham signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings in 2016 and joined the 53-man roster in December of that year.
Ham’s NFL debut fulfilled a lifelong dream. Like many kids, Ham wanted to play at the professional level as soon as he picked up a football.
“The first time I ever played football, I loved it,” Ham said. “I obviously wanted to do it at the highest level. But as I got older, I realized that those dreams [were becoming] smaller and smaller.”
However, this past September, Ham scored his first career touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers, becoming the first Augustana alumnus to score in the NFL since Les Josephson in 1974.
“Coming from a smaller school, the biggest change has been the speed of the game,” Ham said. “When I first got to the NFL, the game was a lot faster. Everybody was moving a lot faster, thinking a lot faster and just doing everything at a higher level. That was a big adjustment for me.”
During his time at Augustana, Ham scored a career high of 1097 yards during his senior year and tied the single season rushing touchdown record with 16.
While a running back in college, Ham transitioned to fullback as he joined the NFL.
“It wasn’t much of a transition when it came to having the willingness to do it,” Ham said. “I’ve always tried to play the running back position with a high level of physicality. I’ve always had that mentality. So when the opportunity to play fullback came, I just took it as an opportunity to make myself more valuable.”
Augustana football head coach Jerry Olszweski said Ham was an incredible player and teammate during his time in college.
“[He’s] one of the best leaders I ever had,” Olszweski said. “C.J. is a man of his work, and a leader by action. He is incredibly accountable to his entire team. He never asked anything of anyone that he wouldn’t ask of himself.”
However, Ham’s leadership doesn’t stop on the gridiron.
“He wants to be a part of the community and help people out,” said Olszweski. “He volunteered in the community for young people, and he still does volunteer work in Minneapolis.”
Even as his career progresses, Ham does his best to keep up with his college team.
“Every Saturday, I try to watch every play that I can, or try to follow the stats,” Ham said. “The year isn’t going as planned, but that’s football. The team is young, but they’re playing great, and I just want to see them keep fighting together.”
Senior wide receiver Nate Merriman, one of Ham’s friends and former teammate, said that Ham’s high level of play and humility have contributed to his success.
“The thing about C.J., is that he was an incredibly soft spoken teammate, but a ferocious competitor,” Merriman said. “Whether it was in practice or gameday, he is a perfectionist. It’s infectious to be around people like that who take the game seriously and want to be the best they can be.”
Ham’s legacy with the Augustana football program will continue on after his professional career, said Olszweski.
“C.J. represents the legacy of Augustana football as well as anyone ever could have,” Olszweski said. I have the utmost respect for C.J. as a human. C.J. is still C.J..”