Rich Gannon is grateful for many who made sacrifices for him as a youngster learning the game of football, and he now enjoys paying it forward.
Gannon reflected on 17 NFL seasons, including with the Vikings from 1987-92.
"I never would have had that opportunity if it weren't for a lot of people who made sacrifices for me, really going back to my childhood coaches when I started playing Pop Warner," Gannon told Vikings.com. "So I just think about all the coaches and the teachers and all the parents who made sacrifices for me, and I just feel like it's my responsibility to continue to give back to a game that's been so good to me."
The former Pro Bowl QB spent the day Saturday with talented high school football players at the Gatorade Prep Elite Camp. The five-hour clinic, led by Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, was hosted at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center and offered in-depth instruction to prep players from across the state of Minnesota.
Priefer said the camp – the first of its kind – was a great way to intersect two passions of his: (1) the game of football and (2) working with young men who love the game.
Priefer's energy level was just as high with the youth as it is during Vikings practices.
"I think they wanted to be here, they wanted to get better, they wanted an NFL-type experience," Priefer said. "I love this game, I have a passion for it, and like I told them in the special teams portion of the meeting this morning, I said, 'I thank God every day for the opportunity to coach special teams for the Minnesota Vikings,' and an opportunity to run a camp like this was pretty special for me."
Players, nominated by their high school coaches for the unique opportunity, traveled from programs that ranged from Cook County all the way down to Spring Grove.
Approximately 50 young men arrived at TCO Performance Center and first rotated through three breakout sessions – Nutrition, led by Vikings Team Nutritionist Rasa Troup; Strength/Speed, led by Vikings Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Uyeyama; and Film Breakdown, led by former Vikings LB Pete Bercich.
For the on-field portion of the day, players divided up into position groups and received hands-on coaching from Gannon (QBs), Priefer, Vikings RBs coach Kennedy Polamalu, Vikings assistant defensive backs coach Jeff Howard, Vikings assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez, Vikings assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken, former Vikings LB E.J. Henderson and current Vikings T Storm Norton.
The group then participated in a group skill session where they ran 1-on-1 drills and finished the afternoon with 7-on-7 scrimmaging.
Gannon praised the "incredible attitude" of the players and said he was impressed by the great work ethic.
"[They're] willing and eager to learn, which is important, great listeners, and I thought the team periods were great," Gannon said. "We put a lot of on their shoulders – we asked them to do a lot in a short period of time. We had a lot of different play installs, so there's a lot of quick thinking on their feet, and I was really impressed with their aptitude, their ability to process a lot of information in a short period of time."
Riley Huebner, a defensive end preparing for his senior season at St. Francis High School, ran through drills with Rodriguez and said that, even in a short time, he felt he had improved his game.
"He was pretty cool. He was a fun guy. He had fun with us and made a few jokes, had us laughing," Huebner said of Rodriguez. "But he also taught us a lot of stuff that we haven't really learned in high school. It was kind of hard to learn the new techniques that the Vikings use – it was pretty different."
Huebner said learning from Vikings coaches in the Indoor Practice Facility made it feel like he was part of an NFL team for a day.
"The coaches treat you nicely, and they practically said we were Vikings [today], so that was pretty cool," Huebner said. "I thought it was a really great experience."
Gannon spoke with the young men about the importance of dreaming big and setting concrete goals for their futures.
"I said, 'Hey, look – you want to play for the Vikings someday? You want to play in the National Football League? It starts here,' " Gannon explained. "I just think taking advantage of the opportunity is really important for these kids.
"A lot of them are thinking about continuing as student-athletes at the college level, so this is going to be an important season for them – not only to stay healthy but to be productive and take advantage of all the opportunities they've been given," Gannon continued.
As the camp came to a close, Priefer huddled the group together and offered advice as well as encouragement and affirmation.
The special teams coordinator thanked the high schoolers for their attentiveness throughout the day.
"They were listening with their eyes and their ears, and I told them how important that is – that they're going to get a lot more of that with the inflection [the coach's voice], whatever point he's trying to make. I thought the young kids got a lot out of it. Hopefully they'll all have good seasons and they're better football players because they were here today."
The Vikings hosted a community celebration for fans to welcome the city of Eagan to the TCO Performance Center on Saturday.
Vikings host community event at TCO Performance Center
Following the Gatorade Prep Elite Camp, the Vikings hosted a family friendly event in which members of the surrounding community were invited to visit Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Guests were able to tour the first floor of the team's new headquarters and peruse a second Vikings garage sale in the Indoor Practice Facility. Outside at TCO Stadium, fans enjoyed live music on the concourse, concessions, Vikings-themed photo ops and on-field activities for all ages.
Laurie, an employee of the Eagan School District, enjoyed taking in the festivities from a shaded area of the concourse with her friends, twin sisters Cathy and Chris.
"I love the band, and the space is absolutely beautiful," Laurie said. "I can see where fans will have a lot of fun here [for training camp and other functions]."
Tickets are still available for 2018 Verizon Vikings Training Camp at the TCO Performance Center for select dates. Click here to access more information.