EAGAN, Minn. — Six high school football players — and active, good citizens in their communities — didn't know where they were going, who they'd be meeting or what they'd be getting.
The seniors learned on Dec. 4 that they'd be touring Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. Once inside the auxiliary locker room at the Vikings headquarters, the seniors were surprised by Harrison Smith and Brian O'Neill and found out that they had been selected as Vikings Community Captains for 2018.
Each is receiving a $1,000 scholarship to the school of his choice, a $1,000 grant for a charity of his choosing and a Sleep Number 360 smart bed. The Community Captains also received tickets to the Vikings-Dolphins game, where they'll be recognized on the video board.
The auxiliary locker room was set up with personalized nameplates featuring the Norseman logo, footballs and mini helmets for autographs, and bags filled with other gifts.
"It was really awesome. I didn't really know what was going on. My parents picked me up and didn't say anything," said Max Tibbits of Litchfield. "They said, 'Don't ask questions. You'll know when we get there.' We pulled up, and I thought, 'This is cool. We're touring the facility.' Then, they brought us in here, and I saw Harrison Smith. I was immediately shocked."
The drive from Lakeville was much shorter for tight end Tate Staloch, but the surprise factor was just as high.
"This was amazing," Staloch said. "My coach said, 'You have to come with me to a place that I can't tell you about to receive an award I can't tell you about,' so this was honestly a huge surprise."
Youth Football Development Manager Jeff Robinson announced the benefits from the Vikings, and Sleep Number Senior Director of Partnerships Patrick Campion explained the donation from Sleep Number.
"This is one of our favorite events. It's such a great opportunity to recognize these individuals for their great work on and off the field, and it matches so well with who we are as a company," Campion said. "It's great to see those kids' faces when they learn they're getting a Sleep Number 360 smart bed and when they start talking to Harrison or Brian about what they're learning about sleep."
Vikings players surprised exemplary student athletes as the Vikings 2018 Community Captains. The crew honored six high school football players for their leadership and commitment to bettering the community on and off the field.
The Sleep Number 360 smart bed is adjustable, allowing individuals to find their favorite Sleep Number setting by changing the firmness of the bed. The Sleep Number 360 smart bed uses SleepIQ technology to measure the quality of one's sleep, which is reported out each morning via the SleepIQ app.
Multiple Vikings players, including Smith and O'Neill, use the same beds.
"Really, these past two years, once I started doing some things with Sleep Number, they've continued to educate me on how important [sleep] is, and I can tell the benefits, as far as recovery and just getting ready to go every week, every day, how it stacks up over time," Smith said. "I'm still learning, but I'm definitely making strides in an area where I've struggled in the past."
Smith said he's been able to get his sleep score into the 80s.
"I'm pretty consistent, and what I've learned is the best way to try to get the most quality sleep and the most amount of sleep is to stay consistent with your patterns and know what works for you. I can't drink coffee in the afternoon, and I love coffee, so I try to cut it out for the afternoon so I can get a good night of sleep."
Smith said it was great to show the players appreciation and that "people recognize the great things that they're doing."
"It also brings me back to being in their shoes a little bit, at that stage of my career and life and kind of the joy that those guys have," he said.
O'Neill, the rookie, had never focused on quality of sleep until arriving in Minnesota.
"Being able to partner with Sleep Number has been unbelievable," O'Neill said. "They've helped, and the resources we have with the Vikings have really kind of upped that level of my game, and I think it's helped my performance."
O'Neill said he started with a Sleep Number setting of 45 and has been "progressively working up toward firmer."
"I'm up to an 80, and I love it," O'Neill said. "I've kind of gone all over the place, but I like the 80 right now, and my [SleepIQ] scores are better because of it, too."
He said being part of the surprise was "awesome" and he could understand why each player was selected.
"After meeting them and talking with them, it's no surprise to us why they're being recognized for the kind of kids they are and what they do in the classroom and community and on the athletic fields," O'Neill said. "It's a really cool deal."
2018 Vikings Community Captains
Carter Danielson, WR/CB | Goodhue
Danielson coaches young people in his community in flag football games on Saturdays and has helped Feed My Starving Children, a global program that fights hunger.
"When you do stuff for the community, you don't expect anything in return, but to get something like this means a lot."
Danielson said he enjoys coaching the fourth-through-sixth graders.
"They have a lot of fun, but there's quite a bit of fun for us high schoolers because we get to actually coach the teams. Saturday mornings, we like to say, are even more competitive than Friday nights, when we're out there coaching against our friends, we have our little guys running around, doing what we tell them.
"Feed My Starving Children, we did that through our football team down at a nearby school," Danielson added. "That was great to get the guys out there. It was good for the team, good bonding to do that thing, but also good for the community, good for the area."
Jack Hendrickson (DE, WR and "sniffer") and Mitch Hendrickson (DE, WR, TE) | Academy of Holy Angels
The identical twins are captains of the football, hockey and lacrosse teams and are heavily involved in the campus ministry at their school, where they lead younger players.
"We are paired with a freshman and do a lot of community service with our freshmen mentees," Jack said. "It's great to be recognized for our efforts.
They were equally surprised by the day's events.
"It was really shocking, obviously so cool and great to see the guys in person," Mitch said. "We're big fans, so I was just a huge smile on my face."
Tate Staloch, TE | Lakeville North
Staloch has made multiple mission trips, including one to South Africa, and helps Mobile Loaves & Fishes. He helped Lakeville North go 13-0, which included wins at TCO Performance Center (in the regular season) and U.S. Bank Stadium (state championship).
"My parents always really instilled the value of helping other people, and I've been trying to give back to my community as much as I can," Staloch said. "I'm really thankful for them putting that value in me.
"I went to South Africa — it was my eighth-grade year — for a three-week thing and really got to be part of just going to the villages there, meeting people and doing the best I could to help out," Staloch added. "It was a really cool experience."
Max Tibbits, QB | Litchfield
Tibbits was diagnosed with glenoid hypodysplasia in January and is now unable to participate in contact sports, but he stayed connected with the Dragons team, attending every game and practice and led by example.
"I was just around with my team, but I wasn't able to participate," Tibbits said. "It was really tough to hear, and all of my buddies were really bummed to hear about it, but they knew I was going to be around the team. They voted me in for captain. It was really cool."
Tibbits has made multiple mission trips to Kansas City and encourages youth to participate in sports.
"I think [giving back is] one of the most important things in the world. You don't want to go do things just wanting something back," Tibbits said. "You just want to be selfless."
Julian Wright, WR/DB | DeLaSalle
Wright, a multisport star who will run track at Marquette next fall, has done more than 120 hours of community service and is involved with Jack and Jill of America. He said his mom "put it into my brain early to help others, serve others with everything that you can."
"All of these hours … come from me trying to be the best person I can be and trying to be the best delivery of me that I can show," Wright said. "This day came as such a surprise to me. When this all happened, it was overwhelmingly amazing. I'm so grateful that I had this opportunity."
Wright said he enjoyed learning from Smith and O'Neill and looks forward to getting better rest.
"I don't have constant problems, but my body is starting to get to that point where it's had wear and tear," Wright said, "so a bed like this is going to help me sleep better, make me fall asleep faster, keep me asleep and make me feel like a better person when I get up."
Note: Wright and Mitch Hendrickson are scheduled to play in the Minnesota Football Showcase this Saturday.