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Lunchbreak: Vikings Players' On-Field Success Enhanced by Other Sports

There are several benefits to playing sports, including maintaining a healthy lifestyle, building strong friendships with teammates and coaches and learning lifelong lessons.

Participating in multiple sports, however, provides additional advantages, such as limiting risk of injury, improving overall athleticism and reducing the chances of burning out and losing passion for the game.

Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune analyzed the athletic backgrounds of Vikings players and wrote how their participation in multiple sports during their youth helped shape their journeys toward becoming professional athletes.

Of the 71 players on the Vikings current roster, 62 competed in at least two high school sports. Nine — including Kirk Cousins, Brian O'Neill, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Phillips, Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Smith — were three-sport athletes. Three players (Adam Thielen, William Kwenkeu and T.J. Smith) competed in four.

Track and field (30) and basketball (23) were the two most popular second sports, but the list included seven others: baseball, wrestling, soccer, rugby, cross country, lacrosse and golf. Thielen won a state championship [in the latter] with Detroit Lakes in 2008.

"You don't realize how big it is," guard Chris Reed said. "I feel like a lot of my stuff [from different sports] working together is why I was able to go to the NFL."

A small percentage of high school athletes go on to play a sport at the collegiate level. Even fewer participate in more than one sport, including Reed and fullback C.J. Ham. In addition to football, Reed and Ham competed in track and field throwing events for Minnesota State University, Mankato and Augustana University, respectively.

Reed claimed a pair of Division II national championships with the Mavericks, and Ham finished runner-up in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Indoor Championships in the shot put during his senior year.

"If I wasn't doing track, I don't know that I would have [made it to the NFL]," Reed added. "Because I know I got my strongest when I was throwing, and that translated to football."

Goessling noted more and more youth athletes in today's landscape are participating in just one sport. He added Vikings players are trying to offer their inputs of the benefits of playing multiple sports. He wrote:

Two studies presented at the 2018 American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons annual meeting showed 54.7 percent of parents encouraged children to focus on a single sport. Thielen, who's opened up a series of sports training facilities around the Midwest with his trainer Ryan Englebert, said "it's pretty much a guarantee" he brings it up or fields questions from parents about it at every grand opening.

"Parents are very curious about the thoughts of people who have been through it," Thielen said. "If you asked a lot of people in strength training, sports performance, high-level athletics, a majority would probably say they encourage you to play multiple sports, because of that injury prevention: different movements, and not just doing the same thing over and over. If you do have an awkward movement in a game [and you specialize], your body's not used to that."

View the best photos of Vikings players doing the Griddy celebration dance in the endzone during the 2022-23 season.

Goessling wrote several Vikings have utilized the skills they've learned from other sports to help them on the football field.

Track and field helped throwers like Reed, Ham and Pat Jones II — who was on a high school team with 2020 Olympic silver medalist Grant Holloway — learn to transfer force from their lower to upper bodies, and refined raw speed for perimeter players like Patrick Peterson, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Nailor and Justin Jefferson, who ran the 200- and 400-meter dashes while competing in the long jump and triple jump.

The Vikings top two defensive linemen, Phillips and Tomlinson, were both heavyweight state wrestling champions. Tomlinson, who turned down a chance to wrestle at Harvard so he could play football at Alabama, estimated he borrows something from his wrestling background "almost every other play" on the field.

"I remember one time, I came off a block and dove for somebody and I was like, 'I just did a single-leg takedown,' " Tomlinson said. "A lot of different times, you'll come out and it feels like you're on the wrestling mat all over again. Especially when you're going up against two 300-pound people, the amount of leverage it takes to stay up in there, it feels like a long overtime wrestling match."

And it's not just the physical skills that can be translated, either. Just ask Thielen about hitting the links during the offseason.

"I think of the mental side of the game — you kind of have to flush it, move on and go to the next shot," Thielen said. "I think you can learn a lot from that, and that's really helped me."

Goessling also found many Vikings players continue to incorporate multiple sports into their offseason workout regimens. He wrote:

Cousins, like Thielen, has paused playing pickup basketball during his NFL career, out of concern he could get injured. He's replaced it with tennis, where he can incorporate some lateral movement and get his shoulder some light work while serving.

Reed and Ham even went to Mankato last month to participate in the shot put as unattached competitors during the Mark Schuck Invitational. Reed placed first and Ham finished in third.

"It's fun to just compete," Ham said after the competition. "I missed that feeling of, 'It's just you in that ring.' It's awesome."

Reed — like former Viking Jared Allen, who competed in the USA Curling National Championships earlier this month — is pursuing an Olympic dream and hopes to qualify for the Olympic trials in either 2024 or 2028.

Goessling noted Reed believes his training in the shot put will prepare him for the rigors of being an NFL offensive lineman.

"It trains spatial awareness — when your body's moving fast, knowing where your body is in space," Reed said. "I use sports psychology a lot for shot put, imagery and all that stuff, so that transfers to football. It's great strength training for offensive linemen, because at the point of attack, everything happens in a split-second. You're training speed and explosiveness. It kind of is a good, well-rounded training."

View exclusive black-and-white photos shot of Vikings players during the 2022-23 season by team photographer, Andy Kenutis.

Seven Vikings crack Pro Football Focus' top 101 list

Before the NFL unveils its list of "Top 100 Players of 2023" later this year, another list is highlighting the best players from this past season.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus released his top 101 players from 2022, and seven Vikings made the list. That total matched Kansas City and San Francisco for the second-most by any NFL team, trailing only Philadelphia (13).

Jefferson was the highest-ranked Viking, with Monson placing him eighth. He wrote:

There was very little to separate [Dolphins WR Tyreek] Hill and Jefferson, who had just one fewer explosive play than the Miami speedster. Jefferson flirted withCalvin Johnson's all-time single-season receiving record before finishing short with 1,809 yards on the season. Jefferson gained a first down 83 times this season, including the playoffs — the most among wideouts.

Left tackle Christian Darrisaw ranked 26th on Monson's list.

Monson placed outside linebackers Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter 51st and 55th, respectively. He wrote:

Smith was a problem all season for opposing offenses to block. He tallied 80 total pressures over the season, with almost half of those coming from an inside alignment, where his speed and quickness proved way too much for guards to contend with.

After missing significant time with injuries in recent seasons, Hunter was back to something like his best play this season for the Vikings. He totaled 76 pressures including the playoffs, the second most of his career, and earned the second-best overall PFF grade (87.1) in his career.

Monson ranked right tackle O'Neill 68th, cornerback Peterson 78th and Cousins 97th.