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Vikings Rookies' Unique Photoshoot Benefits Mankato Youth

The Vikings 2017 rookie class took part in a 'Back to School Backpack' photo shoot on the day the players moved into the dorms at Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

MANKATO, Minn. –Dalvin Cook was a stud on the football field at Florida State, but he's not too macho to pose with a Disney's Moana backpack.

Following Wednesday afternoon's practice session, Cook – along with other rookie teammates – connected with 11 young people between the ages of 6 and 12. Cook handed the backpack to a young girl wearing a Vikings jersey, and she smiled from ear-to-ear. When he knelt next to her for a photo, the grin somehow grew.

It was the second time the running back had been photographed with the flowery book bag.

The first was on July 23. When Cook reported to Verizon Vikings Training Camp, one of his first stops was a unique photoshoot with A number of rookies were photographed holding character-themed youth backpacks that were then signed by the respective athlete, filled with school supplies and even a Vikings flag, and then given to local Mankato youngsters.

"I think this means a whole lot," Cook said as he inked his signature. "Coming in, you [still have] idols you look up to, and I can make somebody's day by giving them that book bag.

"Especially the book bag that it is, giving it to a young girl who's not expecting me to give it to her," Cook added. "It will make her day, and it will make me proud, too."

Some of Cook's teammates who also signed backpacks recalled being in grade school and meeting or receiving autographs from athletes that they looked up to.

Eric Wilson, whom the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent, and rookie tight end Bucky Hodges both received autographs from professional athletes when they were growing up.

"I remember getting stuff from the [Detroit] Pistons," said Wilson, who chose the *Minions *backpack shortly after seeing the film himself. "It was really cool for me because I played basketball at the time, so that was really inspiring. I love this, being able to give back to the kids, which is really important."

Hodges added his John Hancock to a Star Wars­-themed bag and said he appreciated the opportunity to make an impact on the local community in just his first day at training camp.

"It's good to give back," Hodges said. "It's good to always give back to the people […] that look up to us. It's a blessing to be in this position."

Seventh-round draft pick Elijah Lee, who took time to visit and sign autographs with fans before the photo shoot, added that it was a bit surreal to be the one doling out his signature.

Lee grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, where the Kansas City Chiefs hold their training camp.

"In high school, we got to work the camp as security," the linebacker recalled. "I was still star struck then because, I mean, you see these guys playing on TV and now you're getting to actually meet them. So you know, it probably means a lot more whenever you get something signed, something that's more personal."

Lee's choice of back packs was personal, as well.

"I'm a huge Pokémon guy," he said with a laugh. "Growing up as a kid, I had all the games, all the cards. I don't know if kids are into Pokémon right now, but hopefully it comes back at some point."

Both linebacker Ben Gedeon and receiver Rodney Adams immediately chose Batman-themed backpacks, citing the masked character as their favorite super hero growing up.

Following Wednesday afternoon's practice session, the Vikings rookie teammates handed off signed backpacks to Mankato youth filled with school supplies and even a Vikings flag.

Hailing from Florida and Ohio, respectively, Adams and Gedeon were excited to participate in a project that would connect them with young people in the state they will now call home.

"It's awesome," Gedeon said. "Just being a part of the community, being able to give these kids something."

Added Adams: "When I was younger, I would have loved to have an [NFL player] sign a book bag for me. So for me to do just do that and give back to them is a great feeling."

Safety Jack Tocho, a seventh-round selection out of N.C. State, called the experience "humbling."

"Being at this level, this is a new level of stardom, a new level of fame," Tocho said. "It just reminds you that … you need to always give back to those who look up to you and make sure that you're reaching out to them."

When the players met 1-on-1 with the youth and gave out the backpacks, it was clear they enjoyed the experience as much as the young fans.

Pat Elflein knelt down and shook the hand of a young girl receiving his autographed Frozen­-themed bag. A couple of the rookies helped the students put on and adjust the backpack's straps, and many snapped photos together.

"I love the Vikings," said 9-year-old J.C. "I love how they play, and I know most of the players."

When asked about receiving Hodges' signed book bag, he looked down at the gift slung over his shoulder.

"I thought I was going to faint," he answered with wide eyes.

Cheryl Hamond, Director of Social Responsibility at the Mankato Family YMCA, explained that the youth are part of the YMCA's mentoring program and could benefit from receiving school supplies.

"Some of them have had some adversity in their life, so we just thought this would be a great opportunity for them," Hamond said. "If you just look at their faces, it's priceless. These are players they look up to, and it's just really exciting for them and something that brings some joy in their life when [there might be] other things going on."

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