EAGAN, Minn. —Cody Smith transformed from his role as right tackle for the Eagan High School Wildcats into a quarterback with a No. 7 jersey on Tuesday.
Smith heaved the ball, and a teammate came down with it in the bright purple east end zone of Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center's indoor practice facility.
There was no clock or scoreboard for what was one of several recess- or neighborhood-style pickup games inside the brand new facility, but there was plenty of emotion and enjoyment. * *
Smith, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound junior, teammates and players from the City of Eagan's youth problem were invited by the Vikings to be the first to hit the field.
The players have attentively observed the construction of Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, the Vikings new headquarters, which held its groundbreaking in August 2016 and officially opened Monday.
"I've driven by this a few times, and it just looks massive," Smith said. "Being actually inside of it, it's just a really cool experience. Playing quarterback, I usually don't get to play that, so that's always fun, too."
How did he convince teammates that he should be the quarterback?
"They always knew I had an arm," Smith quipped. "I just don't get the chance because of my size."
When Eagan Head Coach Ben Hanson told the team last Friday about the invite, Smith said, "We all texted each other, 'Oh my, God, we get to go to the Vikings facility. This is a professional football team in our hometown.' It's just really cool."
Running back Carter Lyons said it was "really special to be the first team here. It's just like, 'Wow!' This place is amazing."
Lyons said he had viewed progress "from scratch to being built" from the highway. He thinks the Vikings move to Eagan will help further drive interest in football.
"It's extraordinary to have such a big facility … in your backyard because you know all of the professional players are here and all of their influence is near you," Lyons said.
Hanson said he believes the Vikings new headquarters will have a "huge benefit" on the area, impacting generations.
"For our players, this is something that they can tell stories to their kids and grandkids about," Hanson said. "This facility, which will be here for a long time, that they were the first ones to step foot on it and participate in football. A couple of my kids in grades 10-11 were part of the group that got to go to U.S. Bank Stadium and help set that up before the Chargers game [in 2016]."
Hanson said he appreciates the Vikings and NFL efforts for Play 60 and other community initiatives and believes that TCO Stadium, which is adjacent to the headquarters and is still under construction, is another element that will positively impact the area.
"To have a stadium on-site, not only for [the Vikings] benefit, and to keep training camp here, the talks that they're having with the [Minnesota] State High School League to have 'Friday Night Lights' games here, to have soccer and lacrosse here and other things is going to be great, not only for the State High School League, but also for the community of Eagan," Hanson said. "So for all of our sports, we're excited for that being here in Eagan."