Harrison Smith, along with teammate Terence Newman, played kickball and engaged in a Q&A session with youth from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Harrison Smith's physicality on the field has earned him the nickname "Harry the Hitman," but it was Smith who was tackled with some hard-hitting questions Tuesday evening.
Smith, along with teammate Trae Waynes, engaged in a candid Q&A session with youth from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities.
Questions ranged from "Who's your favorite teammate" – to which Smith and Newman both pointed at each other – to "Which [opposing] team do you dislike the most?" One bold young fan even asked Newman about a penalty he received in a game.
"They always are the most honest," Smith said. "They just keep it real, and they don't hold anything back. But it's fun.
"It keeps us from getting our heads too big," Smith added with a laugh. "They bring us back down to earth really quick."
The teammates were good sports in answering all the inquiries thrown their way, and they also fielded some more serious-minded topics such as mentorship.
Smith shared with the group his passion for making sure youth have strong mentors and role models to look up to. The safety said he's grateful to have had strong mentors at every stage in his life, and he's intentional to seek them out. Smith said Newman, 11 years his elder, is a current mentor.
"He's played in the NFL for a lot of years, which most guys can't do – and that's not even an old joke," Smith quipped. "But there's a reason he's been able to do it. Not just because he's a great athlete, but because he's smart and spends his time devoting himself to what we do. He's thoughtful, and he treats people right."
Smith and Newman also shared parts of their NFL experiences, such as why they chose the jersey numbers 22 and 23 and what most surprised them when they entered the league.
The hot-seat session followed Smith's third annual "Kicking it with Harrison" kickball game hosted at the Vikings Winter Park headquarters. Smith first became acquainted with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program when he observed a college friend who was a Big Brother. Smith said it increased his appreciation for his own role models growing up, and he gained a passion for also being involved with the program.
The "Littles" played against their "Bigs" in the kickball game, and a few colorful rules included requiring the adults to kick with their non-dominant leg. Smith and Newman swapped between pitching for the game and mingling with the youth.
Brian Hissong, Director of Match Support for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, said both the kids and the volunteers get hyped up each year for the "Kicking it with Harrison" event.
"The kids look up to players like Harrison and Terence," Hissong said. "And as you saw from the questions, the kids pay attention to what they do on the field, and they pay attention to what goes on off the field, as well. You've got players that the kids look up to who are taking the time to not only be here with them but to tell them about their own mentors, tell them about what they were like as kids. It's very relatable, and they're heroes."
One "Little" – standing nearly as tall as Smith – has attended all three of Smith's kickball events with his Big Brother, Sean, who said he's learned more from 15-year-old Isaiah through mentoring him than vice versa.
"I'm happy to see such a wise, smart and mature young man," Sean said of Isaiah. "To have the opportunity to see him grow over these years is amazing […] it's probably one of the most rewarding things that I've done."
Isaiah plays wide receiver for Cretin-Durham Hall's junior varsity team and especially looks forward to the annual game at Winter Park.
"I like that we can interact with the players, and they're cool with us asking them any questions," said Isaiah, who was born and raised in Minnesota. "The atmosphere of the Vikings football practice facility [is awesome]. I like getting to speak to real professionals, so they can really give you good advice for how to make it to the league or just in life in general."
Following the kickball game, the group was given a tour of the Vikings locker room, where the Little Brothers could receive autographs and pose for photos with Smith and Newman in front of their respective lockers. Smith went above and beyond, however. He reached behind him and began signing and handing out his cleats, gloves and other memorabilia to the young fans.
"It's something I've realized the more seasons I hang around," Smith said. "You kind of forget we get a free pair of gloves to go play football, and when you're young, you go buy them at the store. I got a few things from [players] when I was growing up, and I still have them.
"I don't look at them every day, but I know I have them, and I know they meant a lot to me," added Smith, who received a Peyton Manning autograph years before playing against him. "Just being able to do that and kind of return the favor I think is cool."