Five high school football players who have committed their efforts to make their communities better are on their way to getting better sleep.
The 2017 Vikings Community Captains were surprised last week in the Vikings locker room by safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Terence Newman, along with free SleepIQ™ beds from Sleep Number, the Vikings official provider of sleep and wellness.
The surprise gift stemmed from a partnership between the Vikings and Sleep Number, a Minneapolis-based company with 4,000 employees and 550 stores across the United States.
When Smith and Newman reported for training camp in the dorm at Minnesota State University, Mankato, they had Sleep Number beds waiting for them.
Representatives from the company also made a presentation of helpful tips to prevent jet lag to the entire Vikings team before Minnesota traveled to England to face the Cleveland Browns in Week 8.
The Vikings players passed along what they've learned about the importance of sleep to the high schoolers and enjoyed talking football with the players and saluting their commitments to the community.
"I remember being in their shoes, and being able to get something like this that can change their performance and habits," Smith said. "It's cool to see the smiles on their faces, coming in here and checking out the locker room."
Smith said he's still "getting educated" about the importance of sleep and all of the factors that can make a difference between a good or a bad night of sleep as science continues to inform.
"It is kind of that one piece that you don't hear that much about," Smith said. "You just kind of hear 'rest and recover' but don't really know what that means. There's different levels of how well you're recovering and sleeping at night and what that can do for you, as far as getting the full benefits of your workout, your training and getting your mind ready for the next day. It just builds on itself, even if it helps 1 percent, 2 percent, that's enough to make a difference."
Newman, the 39-year-old who jokingly dubbed himself a "Hall of Fame nap taker" during training camp, said his Sleep Number bed has made a "huge difference."
"It's something where I can actually track how early I get into bed and how much time it takes me to fall asleep so I can optimize the amount of sleep I need to get," Newman said. "The bed actually gives you direct feedback, as far as deep sleep, restless sleep, your hours that you sleep, how many times you breathe in a minute. It tells you everything so you can adapt your routine to get better sleep.
"There were certain things I didn't know about sleep, as far as sleep cycle and kind of how your body recuperates and your brain shuts off," Newman added. "I didn't know all of that, but I had a meeting with Sleep Number and found out all of this information. I like to take naps, and [learned] even the optimal time to take naps. There's a lot of things I didn't know. They just made it more efficient for me."
The 2017 Community Captains received a $1,000 scholarship and $1,000 to donate to a cause of their choice, in addition to the Sleep Number beds. The players also were invited to attend last Sunday's game in which the Vikings clinched the NFC North with a win over the Bengals.
The 2017 Community Captains are:
Odell Wilson, OL, Senior
Community service: Food drives
Donation recipient: Minneapolis North Football Program
Aaron MacMurdo, C, Senior
Community service: Second Harvest
Donation recipient: Second Harvest
Charlie Dennis, S/OLB, Senior
Community service: Feed My Starving Children
Donation recipient: Mac Greeman Foundation
Latrell Montour, LB, Senior
Saint Paul Central
Community service: Special Olympics
Donation recipient: Central Football Booster Program
Mekhi Besseck, S, Senior
Robbinsdale Armstrong High
Community service: Refurbishing homes damaged by fire; taking holiday presents to the elderly
Donation recipient: Hopewell Music Cooperative
Dennis, Montour and Besseck said during interviews for *Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron *that they appreciated the recognition as Community Captains and getting to learn more about the importance of sleep.
"It meant a lot, especially for my family because my whole family [is full of] leaders, and they do a lot of stuff around the community," Dennis said. "When I got [selected], it proved that I was giving back to the community and doing well."
Montour described one of the beds as "really comfy" and said he's observed a personal correlation with getting plenty of sleep and being better prepared for school.
"If I sleep more before school, I'm more awake in class, more focused and retain information better," Montour said. "I always use my phone before bed. It will help me know not to use my phone.
"[Being named a Community Captain is] really cool because normally you get football awards," he added. "Now, it's rewarding for being a leader off the field, which is pretty cool."
Sleep Number Vice President of Sleep Science and Research Pete Bils said the company hopes that providing the beds and scientific information to the Community Captains will prompt them to tell peers about the importance of good sleep.
"We are celebrating their contributions to the community and trying to get them to be ambassadors and advocates for sleep," Bils said. "At Sleep Number, we're really trying to help our youth with their well-being through better sleep. That's through educational programs and advocacy, making sure their coaches support them and their sleep habits.
"We do a lot of research and will share that data to make sure everyone knows about sleep," Bils continued. "We also presented them with Sleep Number beds where they can track their sleep every night and figure out how their daytime habits and routines affect their nighttime sleep. Then, they can really internalize how important sleep is and become ambassadors with their teammates and friends."