By Lindsey Young, For Vikings.com
When it comes to NFL stories, running back Matt Asiata has an interesting one. He's been cut; he's held a practice squad role; he's been picked up. And he is also tied for a Vikings team record with three rushing touchdowns in a single game. In 2014, Asiata scored 10 total touchdowns, including two triple-touchdown games.
"It's a roller coaster," Asiata said. "Up and down. Circles."
Another loop — his pewter-colored wedding band — has helped keep him on track through challenging changes, working hard for goals and honoring his family.
"I kiss my ring five times, and a sixth for my wife, every time I come on the field," Asiata said. "That's a little good luck charm for me. Everything out here is for them."
Family proves a huge part of Asiata's story. When his wife, Tangi, and their five children visited training camp, the three oldest ran around on the sidelines, tossed a football back and forth and pretended to be like Dad.
"It's hard, sometimes, because [some of] my kids are in grade school, and as a father you really don't want to miss out on things," Asiata said. "So when work comes, it's hard. But it's important, and you have to provide for your family. I'm very blessed."
Asiata grew to love sports from a very young age. His father emigrated from Samoa at age 15, and he worked hard to eventually start and raise a family of five children. Asiata credits his father, who played rugby, for bringing football into his life.
"Rugby wasn't a big thing in the States back then," Asiata said, "but I started playing football because of him."
Asiata smiled as he described the way his mother grew to understand football and can't get enough of it, "because all of her kids played."
Asiata tragically lost his father in an auto accident in 2013. Less than three months later, he scored his first NFL touchdown. By the end of the game, he had scored two more. In one of the most painful times of his life, the game he and his dad loved helped him cope.
"He was a great impact from the very beginning," Asiata said. "He's the one who brought football into my life."
Last year, Asiata received an even bigger opportunity on the field when he stepped up to fill a role during Adrian Peterson's absence. He took the responsibility and ran with it — literally. Despite limited playing time prior to 2014, Asiata finished the season with nine rushing touchdowns and 570 yards on 164 carries.
Days that began with six kisses of his ring before facing Atlanta and Washington were each highlighted by Asiata scoring six points on rushing TDs three times.
When told that his numbers helped me take home first place in my fantasy football league, Asiata laughed. He said he first heard of fantasy football two years ago, when former Vikings running back Toby Gerhart told him he should play.
"Last year, after scoring TDs, some people were commenting things like 'He helped my fantasy team, blah, blah, blah,' " he said, still chuckling before shrugging, "I was like, 'Good, I guess. I'm just here trying to win.' If I helped them, I guess I helped them."
This season, Asiata probably won't be a fantasy football weapon. With Peterson back in his starting position and second-year pro Jerick McKinnon slated at backup, Asiata's role may look entirely different in 2015. But don't expect that to change his driven mindset.
The running back doesn't resent the adjustment; in fact, he is more supportive than anyone of Peterson returning to Minnesota. At the end of the day, Asiata's mission is to help the Vikings win — in whatever function that means for him.
"I want to help the offense in whatever way I can," Asiata said. "With the best running back returning to the field, you can't say anything more. I'm happy [Adrian] is back. He's a good friend of mine, and whatever he needs, we're going to be there — me, Jerick, Joe [Banyard] and all the RBs. I've accepted the role — this is where the coaches put me, and I'm going to go in and do my best. I'm going to come out and let 2-8 run the ball."
Asiata consistently demonstrates this positive, hard-working attitude. After all, his father taught it to him; it's engrained in him; and it does not go unnoticed.
Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson is entering his second year working with Asiata, and he emphasized what Asiata offers both on and off the field.
"Matt is what, in this business, we define as a 'true pro,' " Wilson said. "He's always prepared, he works extremely hard and he's very humble. I love those three qualities about him."
Asiata doesn't need the limelight. Like his father, he seeks only to finish every day knowing he gave 100 percent and helped his teammates succeed.
"I've just been blessed to continue where I've been — just being out here every day with the guys, showcasing my talent for the coaches," Asiata said. "I'm going out there and giving it my all every time I hit the field."
So prior to every game, Asiata will pull on his jersey, tie his cleats and kiss his wedding ring six times.
Because roller coaster or not, he's enjoying the ride.