Abdullah completes Ramadan fast, takes Vikings' safety job

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Husain Abdullah broke his Ramadan fast in the final minutes before the Minnesota Vikings' season opener last Thursday by grabbing a Gatorade, a banana and half of a protein bar before kickoff.

Then he took the field for the Vikings, as a starting safety for the first time in his NFL career.

Abdullah has had a memorable month or so since he first publicly discussed his daytime abstinence from all food and drink in honor of the Muslim holiday, a remarkable feat in the heat of two-a-day training-camp practices.

Abdullah embraced the attention as a way to share his faith and perhaps shed some positive light on Islam. For this fringe third-stringer and special-teams player who went undrafted out of Washington State in 2008, it was the first time he found himself surrounded by reporters, cameras and recorders after practice.

Well, it happened again this week, and Ramadan has passed. Abdullah beat out incumbent Tyrell Johnson and hard-hitting backup Jamarca Sanford for the job that few fans or analysts outside Vikings headquarters expected him to get.

"I was really excited, but at the same time, I tried to stay within myself," Abdullah said. "Don't get overly excited: 'OK, you got the starting job, but now you've got to go out there and prove that you can play football.'"

Abdullah had four tackles, plus one on special teams, and the Vikings -- despite a rough opening drive against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints -- held their own against arguably the NFL's best passing attack.

"I think I did pretty well. There were a few plays that I wish I was more of a factor on and I wish I got over faster," Abdullah said, "but for the most part I think I did good."

After Johnson and fellow starter Madieu Williams struggled at times last season, the Vikings declared their safety positions open for competition.

Neither head coach Brad Childress nor defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier could offer an exact day or point when they believed Abdullah was making a legitimate push for the spot, pointing to his progress over his three years with the team.

"He continued to ascend to the point where you believe he gave you the best opportunity to win. I thought he did some good things just in terms of tackling and getting people to the ground," Childress said. "Sometimes it's not pretty in that last line of defense, but all you are talking about is usually finding angles and getting somebody down."

The Vikings have refused to rule out giving Johnson or Sanford the job in the future, but Abdullah will start again this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Frazier remarked about how Abdullah was "consistently making plays" throughout offseason practices and during camp.

"We got to the point where we said we'd probably a hurting football team if we didn't give a guy who's been this productive the opportunity to show that he could start," Frazier said.

Abdullah said he lost just six pounds during the fast; he wants to recoup that and return to his normal playing weight of 204 pounds. The team's nutritionist, Carrie Peterson, devised a late-night and early-morning eating plan to make sure Abdullah had enough fuel. Strength and conditioning coaches Tom Kanavy and Juney Barnett helped with Abdullah's workouts.

"This year has been the best year by far," Abdullah said, referring to the problem he had in 2009 keeping his energy level up during Ramadan. "I feel great."

Abdullah has slowly been getting his body clock back on schedule. To mark the end of the fast and to celebrate his starting spot, Abdullah and his wife went out for a steak dinner.

"I have to keep reminding myself it's OK to eat now during the day," Abdullah said. "I eat something in the morning and then I don't eat anything. I have to keep reminding myself, 'You got to eat. You got to eat.'"

Abdullah's brother, Hamza, is a safety for the Arizona Cardinals. He also fasted. Abdullah said he was surprised at how much attention he received this year, because they've observed the holiday by fasting for much of their lives.

It has certainly drawn Abdullah respect from around the league.

"That says a lot about him as a person and his character and how disciplined he was to do that," Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown said. "To not eat or drink from sunup to sundown, that's hard enough when you're not doing anything. When you're putting football on top of that ... you have to take your hat off to him."

So Abdullah has moved forward, flashing an easy smile when asked about either his faith or his occupation. He has become a voracious reader in a self-described "search for truth," soaking up all kinds of books about religion, including the Koran and the Bible. When he's at work, he's busy trying to get better.

"Since high school, I was never the strongest, fastest, biggest. I like football. I like to play football," Abdullah said. "I just try and do a little bit of everything and try and do everything right. Be in the right places. If you're in position, you don't need to run 4.3 to recover because you're already in position."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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