As the NFL work stoppage lingered this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings were working hard off the field.
“Take a knee come closer, closer… ,” those were the words that Vikings Pro Scout Jeff Robinson called out to participants ages 8-17 at the Minnesota Vikings/USA Football Youth Camp at Cooper High School in Robbinsdale. At the conclusion of each playing session, Robinson stresses three basic principles that are the foundation of the camp – rule number one: respect; rule number two: have fun; and rule number three: listen.
Robinson began hosting the Vikings Youth Football Camps 12 years ago and has helped grow the Vikings outreach with support of the NFL, USA Football and Brad Madson, Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations/Youth Football. However, Robinson points to Vikings Ownership for the recent growth and quality of the Vikings Youth Football programming.
“Since the Wilfs has taken over the team whether thru High School Player Development, (H.S.P.D), Junior Player Development (J.P.D), NFL 7-on-7 State Tournament and Vikings Youth Football Day those programs have blossomed with their support. Not only because the Wilfs want to do it, but have actively attended the events. They have seen how the Vikings reach kids and therefore support and believe in it.”
All campers participate for free. This year USA Football, the NFL youth football governing body, sponsored the two camps at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis and Cooper High School in Robbinsdale. The NFL’s H.S.P.D program hosted camps in St. Paul, Rochester, Brainerd-area and Chaska, while the Vikings/NFL H.S.P.D. State 7-on-7 tournament was held at Winter Park. All told, more than 1,250 youngsters were touched by the Vikings/NFL outreach.
The kids learn from the best, including former Vikings defensive lineman and 2001 2nd-round draft choice Willie Howard.
“Coaching is an opportunity to give back to the kids the same way people did for me when I was growing up,” said Howard. “The most beautiful thing about this is the players hear it from me about the X and O’s and all of the sudden you bring in the Vikings caliber of coaches that come here and it allows them, as players, to hear the same thing but from a higher respected voice that’s not mine. Now they can see everything come together.”
During the Cooper week-long camp there were various stations divided by age groups. The kids ran through football drills, played every position, and learned fundamentals, technique and execution of football. While a wide age range of athletes attended this camp, there was also a group of young girls who participated.
“The number of girls is growing every year and in this group there are probably 10 with some terrific talent and hopefully that number continues to grow,” said Robinson. “Luckily we have some repeat performers from last year so that means they are sticking to their plan.”
I stopped a young, poised and confident 14 year-old girl named Dalene Stave. I asked her why she chose to participate in this clinic. She said she usually plays basketball, but thought she might enjoy football and wanted to learn.
“In basketball I play the post and I thought learning another sport would improve my footwork, agility and conditioning-- and this camp has helped all three,” said Stave.
An important component of the camp is nutrition. Participants through the Vikings Children’s Fund supported Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) enjoy a healthy breakfast and lunch. Second Harvest Heartland, the largest hunger-relief agency in the Upper Midwest, facilitates the program, which plans to serve one million meals to children at 400 sites throughout the state of Minnesota this summer. Of those meals, 1,500 alone were served at the Vikings Camp this summer.
“The coaches at the Youth Football Camp are wonderful. They encourage the kids to come early enough to have breakfast and to stay for lunch at the end of the camp day. They know how important nutrition is to these young athletes,” said Lori Johnson, Second Harvest Heartland Director of Child Hunger Programs.
Added Robinson: “The main thrust of the camp is to give everyone a chance to be active and eat healthy with the Second Harvest Heartland program and have a good day with ‘Play 60’ (the NFL’s mission to have kids be active 60 minutes a day) but overall the big underlining factor is to make sure they are doing positive things and they are improving.”
While anyone is welcome to join in the fun, several players have seized their opportunity through participating in the camps, including: Seantrel Henderson, Bryce McNeal, Kasey Robinson, Larry Fitzgerald Jr. and Marcus Fitzgerald.
Always with an eye towards helping socio-economic challenged athletes, the Vikings have relied heavily and thank the Metro Park and Recreation Departments.
“We like to think we bring expertise to the field for the kids, but the Park Board staffs make it all possible and we couldn’t do it without them,” said Robinson.
If you would like participate in the 2012 Vikings Youth Football Camps, visit vikings.com in May of 2012.