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Antoine Winfield Mentee Harrison Smith Knew Jr. 'Would be Baller'

Eight years ago, 14-year-old Antoine Winfield, Jr., sat in the basement of his family's Minnesota home and played Madden with Vikings rookie safety Harrison Smith.

Antoine Winfield, Sr., a three-time Bowler, was in his final of nine seasons with the Vikings and often invited Smith, along with teammates like Jamarca Sanford and Adrian Peterson, over to connect off-field.

Now an NFL rookie himself, having been drafted by Tampa Bay 45th overall this spring, Antoine Jr. spoke with media members Wednesday in advance of Sunday's Vikings-Bucs game and reflected on those early memories.

"I just remember all of them coming [over on Monday nights], and I remember [Harrison] specifically coming in and meeting him when I was young," Antoine Jr. said. "I was down there playing video games with them and beating everybody in _Madden _and everything. It was cool to be able to hang around all those guys when I was younger."

Smith graciously admitted his losses.

"He was definitely better than the rest of us at Madden," Smith laughed. "There was a little basketball game in the basement, too. All the Winfield boys were always competing at something. Always wanted to beat us at everything. I think that's just innate in the whole family."

The Pro Bowl safety recalled being a first-year NFL player and what it meant to spend time with "the vet on the team" away from the Vikings facility.

"It was a big deal for us to see how a true pro lives his life and takes care of his family, and just the whole interaction," Smith said. "I definitely look back on those times very fondly and appreciate the whole Winfield squad.

"I think we all kind of knew that Antoine [Jr.] was definitely a baller, from a young age, just the way he went about competing and doing things," he added.

The older players' instincts certainly were spot-on.

Antoine Jr. went on to be a standout defensive back at the University of Minnesota, where he was a unanimous All-American in 2019 and an All-Big Ten First-Team selection. He additionally earned the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year award and was one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

Antoine Jr., who was wearing a Gophers pullover Wednesday, recalled attending Vikings games with his Vikings teammates and zeroing in on Smith.

"Harrison is a stud," Antoine Jr. said. "I remember watching him, and I'm like, 'Man, this guy's crazy.' I'm watching how he disguises, he's showing down, he's playing deep middle third, it's crazy. He's a great player."

And vice versa, Smith also kept tabs on Antoine Jr.'s college successes, often tuning in to Gophers games when his own football schedule permitted.

"It was like clockwork," Smith said. "He was always making a pick or a sack or a big hit. And it was cool because – I'm sure getting compared to your dad gets old, and he's his own player, he does his own thing – but you can see [similarities]. The way his dad played, he wasn't the biggest guy, but he was very physical. He was just always around the ball, always hitting people, always making plays, and the first Minnesota [Gophers] game I turned on, it was the same thing. It wasn't surprising at all, and it was really cool to see.

"I'm sure it's awesome for Big Tweeze to watch every game day," he added, referencing Antoine Sr.'s nickname.

As Smith said, Antoine Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps but forging his own NFL path.

The 5-foot-9, 203-pound safety has started all 12 games for the Bucs this season. He's totaled 69 tackles (44 solo), 2.0 sacks, four passes defensed, a forced fumble and recorded his first NFL interception against the Raiders in Week 7.

Smith, who will turn 32 in February, said it's "wild" that he will play on Sunday against the son of his former mentor and teammate.

"Big Antoine was definitely my example for when I got into the league of how to be a pro, how to get ready for games, how to play on game day. Just how to handle business," he said. "And just the fact that now we're playing against his son [is crazy].

"I was telling one of the corners, maybe Cam [Dantzler], and I was like, 'Yeah, I played with Antoine.' And he thought I meant the son, Jr., and I was like, 'No, I played with his dad,' " Smith laughed. "So I don't even know if some guys realize that. But it's definitely cool. I'm glad I've been able to be a part of learning from Antoine and now seeing his son do what he's doing every weekend is special."

The uniqueness of the situation isn't lost on Antoine, Jr., either.

While watching film together Tuesday night, the father and son talked how life has truly come full circle. After growing up spending Sundays in the Metrodome seats, Antoine Jr. will be the one running out of the tunnel and onto the field in Tampa this weekend.

"I was like, 'Isn't it crazy that I'm playing against the Vikings?' We laughed about it," Antoine Jr. said. "I grew up a Vikings fan, watching my dad play up there. I've always loved the Vikings, watched pretty much all their games when I was growing up, so it's going to be a cool experience being able play against one of my favorite teams."