Vikings safety Harrison Smith hosted his annual Big Brothers Big Sisters Dodgeball Game at the TCO Performance Center on Tuesday night.
EAGAN, Minn. — It's not unusual for Harrison Smith to sit quietly at his locker on Fridays before games and take a black marker to his cleats to have an all-black look.
This Sunday, however, the All-Pro safety will sport cleats that feature a purple Big Brothers Big Sisters logo as part of the "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative that helps players raise awareness for charitable organizations of their choice. Forty-eight Vikings opted to participate this year, the third season of the initiative.
Smith has been a longstanding partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters, holding numerous events throughout the year, including dodgeball games for Bigs and Littles at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Tuesday.
"It's really just kind of hosting an event that creates an opportunity for the Bigs and Littles to have fun, maybe experience something they haven't before by coming to an NFL facility, seeing where we work and spend our days, and have a little fun with them by playing dodgeball," Smith said.
In addition to the dodgeball games — where Smith was joined by teammates Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse and Storm Norton — the group participated in a Q&A and were able to get autographs.
Smith said the Littles always try to get the players out.
"There's always some guys with some big arms. … They were going at us pretty hard, but it was fun," Smith said. "I think sometimes they think I'm going to take it easy on them, and then I'll try to throw some heat."
After the last out in dodgeball, Smith hosted people who have pledged money toward his Big Tackles fundraising campaign for a special tour of the Vikings headquarters, a group discussion and personalized photo sessions. The Big Tackles campaign has a goal of $60,000 for this year and is a little shy based on Smith's tackles and pledges so far.
Brandon Wagner, who drove in from Bismarck, North Dakota, and was headed back quickly to help care for his newborn daughter, Lily, brought Smith's previous cleats honoring Big Brothers Big Sisters that Wagner won in a fundraising auction.
Wagner explained that Smith is his favorite Viking because he "does his job the right way" and plays hard without seeking extra attention. Wagner also had previously seen the positives of mentorship offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"My little brother was a Big Brother in college in North Dakota, so I saw the impact that he made on children's lives," Wagner said. "He got a lot out of it, and I've always liked to get involved in different charities that I believe in. As soon as I won these, the first thing I thought about was if he does the tour for Big Brothers Big Sisters, I've got to bring my cleats out."
Smith, who is normally content with the blacked-out look that would match Johnny Cash's vibe from head to toe, said he is proud to sport the Big Brothers Big Sisters logo. He threaded white laces through the shoes after Friday's practice.
"I think it was a good idea because guys are always wearing these crazy cleats nowadays, so to do a week where there's kind of a good cause behind it, I think it's good for all of the foundations to get recognition from it," Smith said. "Hopefully good things happen because of it."
Kearse also will be wearing cleats that support Big Brothers Big Sisters on Sunday because of the mentorship through a different program that helped him when he was growing up in Florida. His are a light purple color.
"It's big to give back to kids and give kids somebody to talk to," Kearse said, "be around them and try to help them achieve their goal."
Kearse said Smith is "a great guy, a great role model, not just for them, but for me also, somebody to look up to."
"It brings me along," Kearse said. "He gave me the opportunity to go do that, and I found something that I would like to do, as far as being a big to those kids and being able to talk to them and guide them through certain situations."
Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities VP of Advancement Laura Tufano has handled volunteer recruitment, fundraising and marketing for the organization for three years.
Smith already was involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters by the time Tufano started. She said she's been impressed by his continuous commitment.
"It's really cool how much he cares about this organization," Tufano said. "It's not lip service. He's not sort of filling a community service requirement. He's in it."
Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities served more than 3,800 young people this year through traditional 1-on-1 pairings and newer group mentorship initiatives. There are more than 500 Littles, however, on a waiting list.
Tufano said Smith's support helps raise awareness for the need of Bigs and with the bottom line.
"With a Champion like Harrison, that goes a long way because we do have a constant need for volunteers," Tufano said. "We have a constant need for adults to become Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
"We always have kids on our waiting list who need a mentor in their life," Tufano said. "We say, 'We need someone to defend their potential,' but we also can't do the work without the dollars, so we had kids playing dodgeball. They had a great time and got to see a world that they only could have imagined."