MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. –It's not every day that your favorite NFL player walks in as you're talking about him, but that's exactly what happened Wednesday.
When the Vikings visited Friendly Hills Middle School as part of the organization's "Team Up to Give Back" volunteer day, friends Hamza Mohamed, 11, and Bjorn Aune, 12, chatted in anticipation about whether or not they might get the chance to meet wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
"We were coming back up from outside and saw Stefon Diggs walking in, and I said, 'He's the G.O.A.T. – 'Greatest of All Time,' " said Bjorn, who along with classmates explained the acronym to Vikings Owner Zygi Wilf.
At that exact moment and completely unprompted, Diggs walked through the classroom door.
"My friend Bjorn was saying Stefon was the GOAT, and Stefon just came out of nowhere. We just lit up!" Hamza exclaimed.
Cheers erupted, and Zygi Wilf joined in the excitement as he gestured at Diggs and laughed, "Here he is – the GOAT!"
"We were so excited that he stepped in right on cue," Wilf said.
Diggs took selfies, signed autographs and spent time talking with the students as he passed out gray, drawstring backpacks adorned with the Vikings Norseman logo.
Bjorn, who attended the Divisional playoff game against the Saints and watched Diggs make the Minneapolis Miracle catch, said it made his day to meet the receiver in person.
Vikings players, coaches and employees participated in the inaugural "Team Up to Give Back"activities at three different locations promoting education to local children.
"It was exciting – especially when you see a little kid talking about you and then you go, 'Boom! What's up?' They usually give you a lot of emotion and excitement," Diggs said.
Diggs was joined by approximately 30 teammates, along with Vikings coaches and employees who participated in activities at Friendly Hills. The rest of the Vikings team and additional coaches and staff visited Rahn Elementary and Pinewood Community, two schools also located near Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Kirk Cousins toured a variety of classrooms before encouraging students through footwork drills in the gymnasium.
"I haven't been to a middle school in a long time," Cousins joked with media members. "It's fun to see their faces. It's fun to see how many of them are Vikings fans, and it's just good to get out in the community and meet some of the people that are cheering for you each and every week."
The Vikings new starting quarterback fielded several questions from the young people, most revolving around whether or not the team will be in the postseason and, ultimately, the Super Bowl this season.
"I just [turn] it back at them, saying, 'Do you think we will?' And they say, 'Yes,' " Cousins said with a smile. "They're confident, and that's a good place to start."
A rainy day dampened the football field but not the fun.
Despite the weather, students engaged in a number of activities with the Vikings visitors, including football skills stations, educational games and even a group art project that spanned all three locations and will later be installed at the Vikings nearby headquarters.
More than 1,600 students received two grade-appropriate books in the drawstring backpacks.
Wilf emphasized that the theme of the day was teamwork.
"We're a team on the field, and in the classrooms here, kids have to feel the team spirit. Why? Because you strengthen each other by teamwork," he said. "When you work together as a team, you create better things – a better environment, a happier environment, an environment that doesn't seek out an individual person but works together as the team should."
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf also joined in the activities at Friendly Hills and said the organization took great pride in giving back to a community that so strongly supports the team.
"From the day we purchased the team, Super Bowl championships and fan experience [were priorities], but also giving back to the community," Wilf added. "That's part of being a Minnesota Viking – being a part of the community, giving back and encouraging our young people to be great citizens."
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren joined "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen on KFAN's *9 to Noon *prior to visiting the schools and expressed excitement about the volunteer initiative.
"When the young folks see the Minnesota Vikings come in, one thing about it, when you combine the young people who are energetic, who want to get better, a professional football team, franchise, players, owners, staff and the aspect of education, you're going to win," Warren said. "So it will be exciting to impact these young students and send them into the summer months so they can stay sharp from an educational standpoint and have a great fall."
Peter Olson-Skog, Superintendent of West St. Paul – Mendota Heights – Eagan Area Schools, emphasized the unique opportunity to welcome the Vikings.
"It's just a great neighborhood outreach, and we really appreciate all the partnerships that the Vikings have developed so quickly while moving into the area," Olson-Skog said. "I've just really appreciated the thoroughness of the Vikings, the staff and the preparation, the presence of the owners and executives and just the entire organization working together for this to be a smooth and seamless event for our students and staff."
Kyle Rudolph enjoyed connecting with the local schools just a couple of months after the Vikings moved into TCO Performance Center.
Rudolph passed out books with Riley Reiff and was impressed that the students weren't counting down to the end of the school year.
"Most of them said … that they weren't looking forward to school being over. So I guess I learned from them that I should have done a little better when I was in school," Rudolph quipped.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he felt proud to be part of the organization-wide volunteer day.
In a session with media members, Zimmer recalled dining with Gale Sayers during his youth and said that he appreciates the way his players make time for young people.
"All of our guys, they do a great job in the community," Zimmer said. "I was sitting watching some of these guys, and I think they are having more fun than the students. It is really good."
Terence Newman, returning for his 16th season and fourth in Purple, doesn't tire of taking part in the community.
"It's important for us to give back and get out in the community," Newman said. "To be tangible to the young kids and show them that if they set goals in life, they can achieve those goals."