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Harrison Phillips Builds Confidence & Connects 'Best Friends' Through Harrison's Playmakers Camp


EAGAN, Minn. – Elizabeth Neuville couldn't stop smiling.

"Harrison Phillips is my best friend," a beaming Elizabeth told "And guess what? We even have the same birthday – January 25!"

Elizabeth, who has Down syndrome, and her friend Jenna Perkins each attended Phillips' "Harrison’s Playmakers" camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center last weekend.

"He's really funny, and he's fast!" Exclaimed Jenna, who also experiences cognitive challenges. "Harrison gives us lots of positive energy."

Asked about her favorite aspect of the camp, Elizabeth laughed at the silly question.

"Seeing Harrison, obviously!" She shouted.

Elizabeth, 21, and Jenna, 19, have been connected with Harrison's Playmakers since the defensive tackle signed with the Vikings in 2022 and expanded his nonprofit to the Twin Cities. Though Phillips has hosted a couple of smaller-scale events, Saturday marked his first Minnesota camp; he previously has held them in Omaha, his hometown, and Buffalo, where he played before joining the Vikings.

More than 200 participants went through a rotation of fun activities set up in TCO Stadium. And from soccer drills and corn hole to kicking and tackling drills, each camper had the opportunity to complete the skill regardless of ability.

Phillips, some of his Vikings teammates and various volunteers assisted youngsters who had Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy or other challenges; some also were wheelchair-bound or visually impaired.


"I never say that anybody has a disability; I say that we have different abilities," Phillips told media members. "There might be someone here who has no use of their legs, and they're gonna play soccer. They're gonna 'kick' a football and they're gonna be pushed through an obstacle course. ... You want to empower them."

From a young age, Phillips has had a heart for those with developmental differences. And when he got to the NFL, he established Harrison's Playmakers to motivate, inspire and instill confidence in that specific population.

View photos of Vikings DL Harrison Phillips hosting his Harrison's Playmakers camp at the TCO Performance Center.

But what he's found is that he's the one often inspired.

"When I first started doing this, I thought I was doing it to help others, but I realized how much it was helping me," Phillips said. "You want to talk about people who always see life with the glass half full, who could miss 100 shots in a row but fully believe they're going to make the 101st ... teamwork, love, passion – all these things that a lot of my Playmakers possess actually make me a better individual."

Debbie Cavers serves as the Vice President and Regional Director of Harrison's Playmakers – Buffalo, and she helped facilitate the Minnesota camp, as well.

Cavers, who helped Phillips initially get his foundation off the ground, said she knew immediately he'd make a significant impact.

"Everybody says, 'Why did you pick him?' They didn't know him in Buffalo at the time," Cavers explained. "And I told them, 'Because there is something about his heart that I just know is true'; and every one of the Buffalo board members that I've brought on has told me, 'We do this because he's legit. His heart is in this.'

"His heart is into these kids and watching them succeed," Cavers added. "And once you're involved and working with him, you can't help but just grow that in your own heart."

Phillips' heart is felt across the country, from 400-plus Playmakers in Omaha, to 600-plus in Buffalo and a rapidly growing group in Minnesota.

Nolan Ahrens brought his daughter Miley, who has Down syndrome, to Saturday's event.

"We're huge fans of what Harrison's been doing for this community. Having Miley be able to attend – it's all about inclusion in our lives. All the kids want to be included," Ahrens said. "This is a great place and a great event, and we thank the Vikings and Harrison for having us.

"He's very committed ... wherever he goes," Ahrens added of Phillips. "He's got a heart of gold."

Patty Neuville, Elizabeth's mother, emphasized the long-lasting impact Phillips makes on Miley, Jenna, Elizabeth and so many others.

"I'm a coach with a lot of people with special needs, so this just warms my heart. My daughter was so excited just to even come here and see Harrison again. They have kind of a special bond," Patty said. "A lot of the kids that I coach – I'm involved with Gigi's Playhouse and Best Buddies of Minnesota, Down Syndrome Association – and they all know him.

"Believe it or not, he is their friend. It's, 'I'm gonna go see my buddy today,' " Patty continued. "It's absolutely life-changing for these kids. They feel included, they have opportunities that they would never ever have if they were isolated or on their own, and they get to make new friends, too. So I'm so grateful."

Phillips was joined at Saturday's event by a number of teammates, including Dean Lowry, Josh Metellus, Lewis Cine, Ryan Wright, Ty Chandler, Jalen Nailor and multiple rookies.

Metellus and Cine also brought their children, 2-year-old Joshua and 6-year-old Bella, respectively.

"With Josh and Lew, depending on how you're raised and where you grow up, you don't always experience people of a different color, people of different abilities, people in different places in life," Phillips said. "Both of them mentioned to me how excited they are that their kids are going to see how different people live and how they are just like us and have a lot of similarities."

Bella assisted her dad at the corn hole station, where she helped collect bean bags as Cine loudly cheered for Playmakers as they tossed the bags and laughed with one another.

"I thought it was a great way to give back to the community and have fun," Cine said. "It was a great experience to allow my daughter to be here and have fun, also, be around people no matter what disability they might have. At the end of the day, they're humans and they're special.

"For some of them, it's their first time doing this, and I'm just cheering them all on and seeing all the good stuff they can do, even though they have different disabilities," he added. "Harry doing stuff like this and really having us involved is very special. This is our way of getting away from football and giving back to others. They've poured a whole lot into us as a Vikings community and Vikings football, so all we can do is something similar in return."

Lowry only has been with the Vikings for a couple of months but jumped at the chance to support not only his teammate but the Minnesota community.

"These kids of all different ages have so much energy, and it's really inspirational for all of us to get out here and use our platform for giving back," Lowry said.

He was impressed by the amount of teammate participation, he noted, but not surprised.

"The first thing I noticed the first week or two I was here, it's a very close team. And just seeing so many guys come and support Harrison from all different position groups and ages on the team, it just shows you the camaraderie the Vikings have," Lowry said. "It's a special place to be with the fans supporting the team as much as they do, and you can tell the Vikings are very important here. It's just a great thing to be a part of."