By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He was a comet that turned everyone’s head at Johnson High School in St. Paul — that’s where Thomas Tapeh became a football fixture.

He went on to glory and riches with a professional career, then he hit rock bottom. Now he’s trying to bounce back.

Tapeh and his mother came with his family from Liberia when he was in elementary school.

He grew into a new school and new country, then one day the coach said, “I want you to play football,” and his life forever changed.

He never looked back — he became the best high school football player in Minnesota, and by the time he was a senior, he was recruited around the country and chose the Gophers.

He was sometimes hindered by injuries, but when he was 100 percent, he was special.

He made it in the NFL, first in Philadelphia, then came home to the Vikings where his career ended after a buyout after an injury. Looking back, he says it was the moment that began a spiral.

He was recently married, and he had money — or so he thought.

“Well, in 2008 the economy crashed, and so the money went with it,” he said.

They tried to move on — he and his wife had two daughters.

“He was really not caring about us at home. He would leave and be gone for weeks at a time, and then sometimes we would call and he wouldn’t answer,” his wife said.

He was in depression, and it was ugly — he says suicidal thoughts were common.

“I’d get in my car and just drive, try to hit something,” he said. “But every time I got right there, something wouldn’t let me do it.”

A spiritual feeling — and his wife — told him there was a better way, and he decided to try and make his family a priority.

“He has been a totally different person,” his wife said. “It’s like watching a miracle happen, because to see him just months ago this one person, and now he’s a completely different person.”

So he came back home last week to be inducted in the St. Paul-Johnson football hall of fame — the school that helped change his life as a young man.

Now his family hopes he’s again, a changed man, and that’s what he hopes — that he has found himself, and in so doing, found his peace.

“It’s with Him I’ve found my joy, and with her, she saw an insecure boy,” Tapeh said. “So with Him, I am free. With her, it’s where I want to be.”


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