PLYMOUTH, Minn. — When the calendar turns to mid-July, Kyle Rudolph’s mind inevitably goes to the looming training camp that lies ahead.
But for the seventh straight summer, the Vikings tight end took some time just before Verizon Vikings Training Camp to hold a youth football camp.
Rudolph hosted more than 800 youth on Tuesday and Wednesday at Providence Academy in Plymouth, partnering with ProCamps to teach the game he loves to lots of youngsters.
“It’s a lot of fun and something I look forward to every year,” Rudolph said. “This time obviously means our start is right around the corner, and we’ll be there a week from [Thursday].
“But I also know this time of year means I get to do my youth camp and get to be out here with kids,” Rudolph added.
First-through-eighth graders participated in passing, catching and agility drills, as well as a race at the camp’s conclusion.
Phoenix Swor was at the camp for the second year in a row and won his age group for the 40-yard dash.
The 7-year-old said he was proud to improve on his finish from the summer of 2018.
“I was here last year, and I got beat by another kindergartener,” Swor said. “But thankfully I won this year. It was pretty cool.
“I also like playing the games and catching the ball,” Swor added.
Rudolph was an active participant over the two days, bopping from field to field to check in on each team and participate in stations and touch-football games.
The tight end said he wants campers to head home with a personal memory from the camp.
“For me, [my favorite part is] probably getting to go around and interact with every team,” Rudolph said. “I play quarterback or demonstrate a drill for every team or throw a ball to every kid, so that way they feel like they weren’t just at my camp … they got to interact with me with a throw or a handoff.
“I try to connect with each kid personally and not just send them home with a T-shirt that has my name on it,” Rudolph added.
So how do Rudolph’s passing skills rate against his catching ability?
“They’re all right. I got picked off a couple times, but I feel like when I go out there, the other team seems to have a couple extra defenders,” Rudolph said with a smile. “I need to start counting and make sure we’re even.
“But I’ve thrown more touchdowns than picks, and that’s my only goal,” Rudolph added. “I try to get a touchdown for every team.”
Sean Rowland, Vice President of Operations for ProCamps, chimed in on Rudolph’s quarterbacking abilities.
“He’s a better basketball player than a quarterback, but he’s a better tight end than everything,” Rowland said. “He’s a good quarterback for what he needs to be out here, but he’s got a great quarterback on his own team.”
Rowland has known Rudolph since he was a baby and said he is still impressed by the Ohio native’s dedication and generosity with giving back in Minnesota.
“He’s a machine, and it’s amazing it doesn’t get old for him. You can tell this is something he really truly cares about,” Rowland said. “You see some guys that do it for a couple years and then it just fades off, but every year he wants to do more and more.
“It’s not just something where he shows up and signs a couple autographs, takes some photos and leaves,” Rowland added. “Every kid gets an opportunity to interact with him, and this isn’t just an appearance for him. This is his camp and something he loves doing.”
Rudolph’s giving spirit extended to after the football drills were over, as he hosted a luncheon Tuesday and took underprivileged kids shopping at a local sporting goods store on Wednesday.
Rudolph, who has made 65 consecutive starts, said the camp always reminds him of summers growing up, when he and his friends would attend camps or just play catch in the backyard.
And he enters his ninth season in the NFL, Rudolph is excited for the chance to continue playing the game he loves.
“I feel like we had a great offseason as a team,” Rudolph said. “We laid the foundation for the nine weeks that we were together to come to training camp and improve each day and get better.
“You’ve got to prepare your team for who you’re going to be that season, and for us, we know the identity it takes for us to win football games,” Rudolph added. “It’s just about getting back to that.”