Four Vikings Pro Bowlers implemented a little “backyard football” during an Orlando downpour Sunday afternoon.
While the pros channeled their inner little leaguers and had some fun this week for the all-star game, youth athletes from all over the country looked up to some of the NFL’s biggest names and imagined one day being in their cleats.
All 32 NFL teams were represented by a team of flag football participants, including the Vikings, who traveled a team of 13- and 14-year-old boys from West St. Paul.
The Westside Boosters won a flag football tournament in November and earned the trip to represent Minnesota during Pro Bowl week.
Vikings Youth Football Development Manager Jeff Robinson explained that USA Football was involved in the week of activities. The focus was to share different facets of football with young people that also included all-girls’ teams and a 9- and 10-year-old age bracket.
“You really get a wide swath of kids, and it allows them to interact with Pro Bowlers, number one, but it also allows them to work on their own game,” Robinson explained. “I think through that process, you see the things that you can achieve if you stick with it, but you also get to work on the fundamentals of the game.”
The teams were invited to an opening ceremony Thursday night, during which each of the clubs were introduced and several athletes participated in interviews. A handful of Pro Bowlers were on hand to interact with the younger generation of players, and a mini skills challenge allowed the athletes to compete in vertical jumps, 40-yard dashes and other physical aptitudes.
“They were interacting and competing with other teams from throughout the league, [and] I definitely think that it helps them with their overall social skills,” Robinson said. “I think it helps them to understand that they have to act a certain way and represent their teams in a certain way.
“I think even more so than the things that happen on the field, I think they learn a lot of life skills that will help them as they carry on with their journey,” he added.
Robinson appreciates the NFL’s focus on youth football throughout Pro Bowl week, as it allows the young men and women an up-close glimpse of the professional they usually admire from afar.
He said it “meant the world” to young athletes to not only represent the Vikings during the flag football tournament but to be in a less-formal setting with some of the NFL’s stars.
“It allows them to realize that they are still humans, and they do take time out of their schedules to give back,” Robinson said. “So I think it’s very worthwhile, and I think it’s a great experience for them because they understand what’s out there in front of them if they work hard.”
Vikings players took part in Community Day that included flag football.
The Westside Boosters entered the tournament as the No. 12 seed and finished 1-3 on the week.
The young men’s best outing came down to an exciting finish, when their game against Arizona went into overtime. The Boosters scored a touchdown that would have won the game, but the score was overturned due to a penalty, and Arizona went on to win and later finish second overall.
While the team didn’t finish as well as it would have liked on the field, Robinson had nothing but praise for his group of young men.
“The Westside [Booster Club seems] to be very caring about the kids, and they’re willing to go the extra mile to look out for them,” Robinson said of the St. Paul youth athletic club. “So I think it’s just a very positive environment for these kids to come up through. I think, overall, it’s just a win for everybody because, again, you have kids who admire pro athletes and got the chance to interact from a grassroots level.”