MINNEAPOLIS –NFL players are accustomed to being in the limelight, but a handful of Vikings recently shared a platform and listened to the stories of student athletes.
Kentrell Brothers, C.J. Ham, Anthony Harris, Stephen Weatherly, Eric Wilson and R.J. Shelton helped a number of Minneapolis North High School students celebrate their revamped weight room earlier this week. After the players helped Vikings Youth Football Director E.J. Henderson lead the group of young athletes through some drills, they circled up and took turns sharing educational experiences, backgrounds and future goals.
Ham said he appreciated the opportunity to connect more personally with students from his home state.
"Most of the time at these events, it's a big event with a lot of kids, so you don't really get a chance to get that 1-on-1 time with them," Ham said. "So just being able to see where they came from, what their interests are, it really helps you remember when you were the same age as they are and had the same aspirations."
Each of the 10 student athletes was chosen due to his or her inclusion on the A or B Honor Roll.
Weatherly, an alum of Vanderbilt University, said it was encouraging to hear the high school juniors and seniors show an equal amount of passion for their respective sport and for their academics and career goals.
He and Ham each emphasized the impact that a complete weight room can have on a young person's athletic success.
"My high school now has a pretty good facility, but back when I was there, I'm pretty sure our weight room was just in a little square box," laughed Ham, who attended Duluth's Denfeld High School. "In saying that, it makes it kind of hard to bring in your team to work out and do the offseason training. So having a facility like this makes the biggest of differences."
Weatherly echoed Ham's prep experience.
"My first weight room in high school was above the gym, and I think we had five platforms, all mis-matched weights that were donated from different people in the community and stuff like that," Weatherly said. "But at the end of the day, we worked hard and we valued it. And that was our little safe haven … I definitely think better facilities and better equipment that you can use to help specialize your workouts has a positive impact on football players and all athletes."
The upgraded workout space at North was thanks to the partnership of the Minnesota Vikings and Medtronic, who each contributed $10,000. Some of the weight room's equipment has been in place for more than a year, but the donation was made official through Tuesday's ceremony that included members of both organizations along with school officials and Minneapolis dignitaries.
The Vikings and Medtronic hosted the first Community Tuesday at Minneapolis North High School this week.
Luann Pendy, Senior VP of Global Quality at Medtronic, emphasized a shared focus on health and wellness.
"As a global leader in providing medical technology, services and solutions to millions of people, our mission is to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life," Pendy said. "And we feel that everyone needs to be involved in active physical fitness. Having this equipment for these students is so important for them to excel in their sports as well as in their academics."
Minneapolis North is making tremendous strides under its current leadership.
Former Vikings wide receiver Leo Lewis is entering his fourth year as the Polars Athletic Director and called the overhauled fitness center "just the tip of the iceberg" in improvements he envisions for the school.
"We love the space," Lewis said. "Our sports teams can train here in the winter when we can't get outside, and certainly it can be a pre-training resource for us, as well.
"We certainly need it," Lewis said. "I think not only for our sports and our student athletes, but for our curriculum – our physical education, our dance troop, our cheerleaders."
Also present for the weight room presentation was Trent Tucker, a former No. 6 overall draft pick in the NBA and Golden Gophers standout. Tucker returned to the Twin Cities community in the season of retirement and is now serving as the Director of Athletics for Minneapolis Public Schools.
"About four years ago, this school was struggling to bring kids into the building," Tucker said, adding that enrollment has now surpassed 400 students.
Tucker said the weight room will allow Minneapolis North athletes to compete at a higher level but also will promote fitness and wellness throughout the community. He expressed gratitude to Medtronic and the Vikings for their generosity and highlighted the significance of the six NFLers being on-site, as well.
"These guys are willing to give back, and that's a great thing for our kids to see," Tucker said. "They worked hard to get to where they are, but they haven't forgotten where they came from. To have the Vikings players out here today was tremendous."
Weatherly, in his second season with Minnesota, has been motivated to get involved with local youth after he witnessed the difference athletes can make first-hand. The defensive end grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and at a young age had the opportunity to participate in similar events with members of the Falcons.
"Those guys used their off days to come and positively impact the community that I was in, even though they weren't from Atlanta. I only saw it right that I did the same thing," Weatherly said. "The first time [after arriving in Minnesota] that I was asked to sign an autograph, I saw how that lit up a kid's face, and that just took 20 seconds out of my day.
"So I'll definitely go and say something or just be involved and hopefully put a smile on someone else's face," he added.