DULUTH, Minn. — The strong hands and quick feet of Stefon Diggs made quite an impression during the receiver's rookie season.
This past Saturday, however, his arms were a difference maker.
Diggs met Aaron James (A.J.) Nelson during a youth football clinic that was held during Polaris-Vikings Winterfest, an interactive fundraiser that benefits the Vikings Children's Fund. Within moments, the arms extending out of Diggs' No. 14 purple jersey wrapped around the 13 year old from Superior, Wisconsin.
A.J. is courageously fighting neurofibromatosis, a cancer where tumors develop in the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and nerves, and Diggs wanted to offer comfort.
"It's big because I know what it feels like to battle adversity," Diggs said. "He's going through something that's way bigger than anything I've had to go through so I just tried to not only give him words of encouragement but a hug because sometimes hugs go a long way. Usually, people don't hug, so I just tried to give him a hug and show him people are here for him."
Diggs can relate to difficult times. He was 14 when his father, Aron Diggs, passed away, quickly making Diggs the man of the house to guide his two younger brothers.
A.J. is being raised by his grandparents and maintains a positive outlook in spite of the vicious disease.
"Nobody knows he's got anything until it's mentioned," Judy Nelson said. "Otherwise, he's just smiling. That's him."
The Vikings worked with Love Your Melon, a nonprofit that provides winter hats to cancer patients across the country. Love Your Melon was founded by students at the University of St. Thomas in 2012 with a buy one, give one model. The effort has grown to include more than 9,000 college students at 700-plus colleges across the country who volunteer to sell the hats.
The University of Minnesota, Duluth is one of the most prolific chapters. Students Taylor Johnson, Jess Haugen and Nichole Jacko attended Saturday's football clinic in support of A.J.
They watched as A.J. ran through all kinds of football drills led by Vikings Youth Football Manager E.J. Henderson, Diggs, Adam Thielen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerick McKinnon, Shamar Stephen, T.J. Clemmings and Carter Bykowski.
Thielen also was able to spend some one-on-one time with A.J., and said he was greatly impacted by A.J.'s spirit.
"I couldn't even imagine to go through something like that at that age," Thielen said. "It's pretty cool to see his spirit. He was having fun. It's awesome to see him come here and do this. I think it will help him stay positive."
View images from the inaugural Polaris Vikings Winterfest, which was held in Duluth to benefit the Vikings Children's Fund.