EAGAN, Minn. – As the Vikings work on expanding their roster through the 2019 NFL Draft, players already on the roster will be honored for contributions on and off the field.
C.J. Ham, Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Brian O’Neill, along with Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman, will be recognized at the 12th Annual Minnesota Football Honors on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Sugarman, entering his 14th season with the Vikings and second in his current role, was named the Fred Zamberletti Award recipient by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation.
The accolade is named in honor of the Vikings original athletic trainer. Zamberletti was a mainstay on Minnesota’s sidelines from its inaugural 1961 season through December of 2011 and remained a consultant for the team until his passing in September 2018.
Sugarman said the timing of this award increases its significance.
“It’s special because of the legacy that Fred has left – not only to the Minnesota Vikings but to athletic trainers in the state of Minnesota and athletic trainers at the national level,” Sugarman said. “Freddy was a famous athletic trainer, and to follow in his footsteps and in his shadow, per se, naming our athletic training room after Freddy – the Fred Zamberletti Athletic Training Room – it’s very special.”
While the award spotlights Sugarman, the longtime trainer is intentional to extend the honor to his entire staff.
“I always see it as recognition of our staff, which I really appreciate more,” Sugarman said. “I like that Tom Hunkele, Rob Roche, David Jantzi and Amanda DeKanick can be rewarded. Really, that said, it goes on. I really like that by getting this award and bringing attention to it, the team physicians get a little recognition, as well. So maybe I’m the face that receives this honor, but I see it as an award to the Minnesota Vikings medical staff and the job that we are able to do for the organization and for our players. We take our jobs really seriously and try to it to the best of all of our abilities.”
The 2019 campaign will mark Sugarman’s 23rd in the NFL. He and his staff received the NFL’s highest honor when they were named the 2017 Athletic Training Staff of the Year. In 2008, Sugarman was named the league’s Most Irreplaceable Athletic Trainer by ESPN Magazine.
Sugarman has been part of 10 NFL playoff teams, including eight division-championship teams. He has overseen treatment during five Vikings playoff runs and four NFC North titles.
“It’s special. To do the different things that we’ve done since I’ve been here – from moving into U.S. Bank Stadium, moving into TCO Performance Center, that we were an integral part of designing. Thank you to the Wilf family for allowing us this opportunity,” Sugarman said.
“If you look around the league, all of a sudden I’m becoming one of the elder statesmen, which is scary and not something I ever envisioned. I always thought of myself as the young guy,” he added with a smile. “It hasn’t been without trials and tribulations, but we continue to do what we’re asked to do, and that is to be, hopefully, an asset for this organization – guys that can work behind the scene and do our part to help this team win a Lombardi Trophy.”
Along with Sugarman, Diggs, Hunter, Ham, O’Neill and Rudolph will be honored with the following recognitions Saturday:
Vikings Offensive Player of the Year – WR Stefon Diggs
Diggs followed the Minneapolis Miracle by turning in career bests of 102 receptions, 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018, his fourth pro season.
He tied Cris Carter as the only receiver in Vikings history to notch four games with double-digit receptions in one season (Carter did so in 1994 and 1995) and had eight games with eight or more receptions.
Vikings Defensive Player of the Year – DE Danielle Hunter
In his fourth season in Purple, Hunter racked up a career-best 14.5 sacks in 2018, which tied for the fourth-most in the NFL and earned the defensive end his first Pro Bowl nod.
Hunter’s impressive season included multiple highlights, but it was his outing against the division-rival Lions that garnered NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. He recorded 3.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, nine tackles and a 32-yard fumble return touchdown.
The 24-year-old now has 40 sacks through his first 62 career games (33 starts), which are the most by all players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Special Teams Player of the Year – FB C.J. Ham
A native of Duluth, Minnesota, Ham has grown his role with the Vikings since signing with his home-state team as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
Ham recorded seven tackles on special teams in 2018, giving him a total of 22 in 31 career games.
The Vikings converted Ham from running back to fullback before the 2017 season. He has since contributed as a core special teamer and versatile offensive player, appearing in 31 consecutive regular-season games before missing the 2018 finale.
Ham’s 272 special teams snaps in 2018 (more than 60 percent of the Vikings special teams plays) ranked second on the team behind Ben Gedeon.
Rookie of the Year – T Brian O’Neill
Drafted 62nd overall by the Vikings last spring, O’Neill stepped into the starting lineup in Week 6 and closed out the season at right tackle.
The rookie totaled 800 snaps on offense (76.1 percent of the plays run by Minnesota) and appeared in 15 games.
O’Neill and the Vikings offensive line helped quarterback Kirk Cousins become the first player in NFL history to have 4,000-plus passing yards, 30 or more touchdowns and 10 or fewer interceptions with a completion percentage of 70 or higher in a season.
Community Man of the Year – TE Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph, entering his ninth season with the Vikings, has made positive impressions on and off the field for nearly a decade in the Twin Cities.
In March 2018, Rudolph celebrated the opening of Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
The unique space, which was designed with input from patients, provides opportunities for patients and families to take their minds off treatments. Features include an indoor basketball hoop, a lounge, a small kitchen, a digital sports simulator, a sensory walk/area for patients on the autism spectrum and video game consoles.
Rudolph became connected with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital early in his Vikings career, which began in 2011. He attended holiday-themed visits hosted by teammates and has increased his commitment to patients and families over the years.
The father of twin daughters, Andersyn and Finley, and a son, Henry, has played in 112 career games and made 104 starts, including a league-leading (among tight ends) 65 consecutive. He has 386 receptions and 3,787 yards, which rank eighth in franchise history. His 41 touchdown receptions rank fifth in Vikings history.