EAGAN, Minn. — The players on the 2020 Minnesota Vikings High School All-State Team have endured unprecedented senior seasons and limited opportunities, but this week they got to draw real-life lessons from Hall of Famer John Randle, Pro Bowl fullback C.J. Ham and rookie receiving sensation Justin Jefferson in a virtual videoconference hosted by WCCO's Mike Max.
"We commend you guys for getting through the season," Max said. "Boy, it was astonishing to see what you did and got done."
Randle, Ham and Jefferson were all lightly recruited coming out of high school but ran with their collegiate opportunities before reaching the sport's highest level.
Each described their memories from high school, congratulated the 32 players and the coach of the year (Hills-Beaver Creek's Rex Metzger) on their selection to the team, and shared what they learned along their journey through questions from Max and several players.
Here are four topics covered by the conversation, the first of its kind with a Minnesota Vikings High School All-State Team.
1. Memories from school
Randle: "First of all, I want to congratulate all 32 of you guys for quite an accomplishment. Playing high school ball in Texas, that's the beginning of your journey. When you're out there, you're playing in front of your close friends and family, and we all start out playing a game we love to play and appreciate. We're playing with our neighbors, with our friends. When I was playing high school ball, I was at the top of the world and playing a game that I felt like everybody in town was watching me play. I never imagined I would reach the stage that I've come to and played on to finish my career. I just want to say my hat's off to you guys because you have done such an amazing job. Please continue the journey."
Ham: "I want to second what [Max] and John said by congratulating all 32 of you guys and congratulate Coach Rex. This season, this year, it's been a tough year for all of us, and for you guys to be able to take that and adapt to it and deal with that adversity and have success, it just shows that you all deserve to be on this call, that you all deserve the success and accomplishments that you've gotten in your career. I just want to say kudos to y'all on that.
"High school football for me, I grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, I was an all-state honorable mention player, played at Denfeld. I wasn't recruited by the big schools. I was only getting looked at by Division-II and Division-III schools. No big scholarships. Only got offered [scholarships] by two Division-II schools. It was really about going out there and making the most of every opportunity. Not a lot of high school players get to move on and play college ball, so it doesn't matter what level you're going to play at — NAIA, Division-I, D-2, FBS, FCS — it doesn't matter the opportunity that y'all get to go out and further your careers, have fun doing it is the biggest thing. If y'all have aspirations to play in the NFL, at this time, I really don't think it matters what college you go to. If you're good enough, scouts will find you, people will find you and you will get an opportunity. Really, it's just keeping your head down and working hard and not letting anything be too big for you. I just want to wish y'all the best of luck."
Jefferson: "It meant a lot to play with my best friends and play alongside my brothers. It was fun to play with people that you grew up with and make memories with. It was so fun for me. I really wish I could go back for a year and play high school all over again, but the journey that I went through was amazing.
"It was fun to actually progress as a player and as a person. I wasn't a top recruit. I wasn't having all of these offers and having coaches run after me. I didn't have all of that, so I had to work for what I had. I got the opportunity, and I just ran with the opportunity. That's all you really need, that opportunity and that chance to make that spark. All of you guys really have the opportunity to do that, so I wanted to say congratulations also. Just keep doing what you're doing."
2. 'Favorite' teammate?
It can be a little tricky for someone to name a favorite teammate, especially before hanging up the cleats, but Jefferson and Ham obliged when asked to name their favorite teammate. Randle named two fellow Hall of Famers and Vikings Ring of Honor Members.
Jefferson: "That's kind of hard to choose. All of the guys in the locker room give a good vibe, a good energy. I work with Adam [Thielen] the most, so I can say Adam just because of his attitude toward the game and wanting to come to work every single day and help be a part of something and play football. That's all he wants to do."
Ham: "That's tough. I thought Justin was going to say me. I probably would have said Adam Thielen, too. I love my running backs group. I love all of my teammates, but to think about it, the running back room when I first made it into the league in 2016 with Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, and Zach Line was the fullback at the time. Those guys really showed me how to be a pro and walked me into it. It was a great year with them."
Randle: "I've got to say two guys; Randall McDaniel, offensive lineman, 14-time Pro Bowler, I went against him every day in practice, so he was the closest, but the next was Cris Carter. I learned how to be a pro, I learned how to take criticism but also give criticism. I learned how to be a captain on the team from Cris Carter, which was sometimes, when guys are feeling bad, you've got to pick them up an bring them along, so I'd say Cris Carter and Randall McDaniel."
3. Recalling the biggest jump from high school to college
Jefferson: "In high school, a lot of people are a lot smaller, probably are the best player on their team, but in college, everybody is pretty much the same talent as you or better, so just having to switch over to college and play with older people. The game is faster, they're stronger and smarter, but you're working to reach that stage, too, so just trusting your abilities to be on the field and play against those guys."
Ham: "At every level, the speed is one of the biggest differences, the speed of the game. Everybody is moving fast. The game play is just so much faster, so that's the big physical difference, but I'd say you guys are All-Staters. You're the best on your team, the best in Minnesota. The biggest difference is going to a university and kind of having to start over. Like Justin was saying, everybody is good. You're on a team now with 21-year-olds … they're adults. They're grown men, per se, and to adjust to that is the biggest difference."
Randle: "Going from high school to college, I guess one of the biggest things is you're going to be responsible for yourself more than you were in high school, but the second biggest thing I'd have to say is technique. Your technique from high school to college is going to change, and that speed and technique, how fast can you learn that new technique to catch up with those older players? In high school, you're at home, but going to college, you're away and have your own room."
4. On the one thing each player would like to redo if he could?
Jefferson: "One thing I would change is the classroom. During high school, I didn't take school very seriously. I thought I didn't need it. I didn't care about my grades or anything, so I just worried about football 24-7. I failed to realize you need grades to get to college and to be really successful in life. I took the wrong way and had to go through summer school and do all of these things to end up with good grades, so that was definitely a hassle. That was definitely nerve-racking for me, not being able to know if I'm eligible to go to a D-I school or not. If I had anything to redo, it would be going back to high school and taking it seriously."
Ham: "For me, I probably would have tried to lose some weight a little earlier in my career. Many people don't know, my sophomore year in high school, I was about 275 pounds, playing running back. I thought I was a running back at least, so I was kind of a late bloomer. My junior and senior years was when I finally started trimming down a little bit and was able to get the speed and started being recruited for running back. All joking aside, I would go back and take school seriously as well as being a good athlete, try to learn that balance. I was by no means a bad student, but trying to learn that balance going into college. My first year of college was my worst year academically. I wasn't almost ineligible or anything like that but it was the worst GPA of my whole career. It comes down to that responsibility that John was talking about earlier, trying to manage your time. You're living by yourself, so really just taking those things seriously and trying to work on time management."