Vikings players T.J. Clemmings, Charles Johnson, Shamar Stephen and Stephen Weatherly visited kids at the St. Josephs' Home for Children Football Clinic.
MINNEAPOLIS –It's not often that tackle T.J. Clemmings gets a chance to play quarterback instead of block for one. He jumped at the opportunity Tuesday.
"You could tell he's not really ready for it, because after the play, after a few throws, he was like, 'Yeah, this is tiring, throwing the football,' " wide receiver Charles Johnson said, laughing. "He has to get used to throwing it a little bit. He's not used to that, he's just used to dropping back and protecting the quarterback."
Clemmings and Johnson joined teammates Shamar Stephen and Stephen Weatherly at an NFL "Play 60" football clinic at St. Joseph's Home for Children. Also participating in the event were assistant athletic trainers Rob Roche and Dave Jantzi, Youth Football Manager E.J. Henderson and Vikings alumni Rickey Young, John Swain, Esera Tuaolo and Tuineau Alipate.
Approximately 50 youth were led through a series of drills that taught them some football basics. While Clemmings worked on passing drills, Johnson and Stephen played "defenders" – Stephen even snagged an interception – and Weatherly taught some of the kids how to work with a tackling dummy.
Viktor the Viking and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders were on hand to assist with the drills and offer encouragement for the students inside a gymnasium that was decorated in purple and gold to welcome the Vikings.
Stephen, entering his third season with Minnesota, said he enjoys getting involved in the Twin Cities community and making a difference where he can.
"I had a great time with the kids," Stephen said. "They're a joy to be around, seeing all the enthusiasm they have [to be] playing with all the football players and the older guys. They're having a great time, and so am I."
Johnson said he especially enjoys helping with youth events because he wants to demonstrate that he's a "real person" just like them.
"We wake up, we put on clothes the same way everybody else does," Johnson said. "People may idolize us for what we do, but I want to be known as more than just 'Charles Johnson the Minnesota Viking.' I want to known for being Charles Johnson, a human, a guy who's coming out here and helping in our society. It's important to me."
Henderson also spoke with the children about the importance of education, perseverance and hard work. He reminded them of the importance of dedicating themselves to their schooling as they work toward their goals. Henderson and Roche also emphasized the significance of daily activity.
"It just shows them that they can do anything they want to do if they put their mind to it," Roche said. "We have the same goals as the players in the NFL – we want to get to the highest level of our profession and live our dreams, as well. To be able to tell that to these kids, that's what we're here for.
"I think every time we come here, we leave just as happy as they are," Roche added. "To have them run around, get some physical activity and see those smiles on their faces makes our day pretty good, too."
Tuesday's visit marked the ninth year that Vikings Athletic Training staff members have participated in support of the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to heightening awareness of the plight of abused and neglected children. Henderson received the Vikings Ed Block Courage Award in 2009 after coming back from a significant leg injury and later receiving a Pro Bowl nod.
Serving as a "Courage House" for the Vikings, St. Joe's serves children and their families by addressing immediate needs for shelter and stability and offering long-term solutions to emotional and behavioral issues through quality mental health care.
The Vikings have partnered with Catholic Charities St. Joseph's Home for Children on numerous charity events since 1998.
"There are so many people out here where you can change their lives, just by shaking their hand, coming up and talking to them, giving them a hug, just letting them meet you," Johnson said. "You never know how that can change somebody's life. If it takes that kind of gesture to go out there and impact a kid today, to tell them 'Good job,' because maybe a kid never heard a 'good job' before. Little things like that, you never know what it can do for a person. It's the little gestures like that that go a long way."