This week, NFL players are wearing something special on their feet.
Since 2016, the league has allowed players to support causes close to them with custom cleats through the "My Cause My Cleats" initiative.
For T.J. Hockenson, he has not one, but two special organizations he is passionate about: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Warrior Rising.
The Vikings tight end has worked with both organizations the past four years.
"NAMI helps with mental illnesses; With my family and the background in it, that's a big non-profit that's been close to us," Hockenson said. "Warrior Rising is an organization that helps veterans. It's about helping them with their businesses when they get back [from war], being able to support those guys in their endeavors and really help them strive and succeed."
We sat down recently for a Water Break presented by Crown Royal.
Q: How special is it to be closer to home?
A: "It's great. Just to be here in Minnesota, [I'm] only four-and-a-half hours away from home [and] I've got a lot of people texting me from home who are going to be able to come to games now. It's truly a blessing to be here. I'm just super thankful. It's a great opportunity for me and that's just the biggest thing, to be close to home and to have family here."
Q: What has been the easiest/most difficult part with your transition into the new offense?
A: "This is my fourth offense now; the easiest thing is probably the things that I've translated from the Jared [Goff] one to come here. [Goff] brought some things to Detroit that they use here, just those types of words. The hardest [thing] is definitely trying not to revert. There's a lot in this offense that is carryover [from Detroit] and then a lot that is taught differently, so [I'm] just trying not to revert to my old offenses, how [the Lions] taught it and how they worked it so that's been the biggest challenge."
Q: You've played in U.S. Bank Stadium many times as an opponent. What makes the stadium so unique?
A: "It's the fans for sure. The fans here are crazy and loud. It's a hard place to play when you're an away team. I'm just thankful that I get to do it now in purple and they're on my side. That's definitely the biggest and the coolest thing about the stadium here."
View photos of Vikings players' custom cleats in honor of the NFL's 2022 My Cause My Cleats initiative that allows players to represent causes that are important to them.
Q: What has the interaction with the fans been like so far in your first few weeks with the Vikings?
A: "It's been great. It's funny because I go out and it's just like, 'Hock! Hock!' it's been cool. There's a lot of fans here, and it's been great to be here and be in this city."
Q: What's it been like to play on Thanksgiving every year in the NFL so far?
A: "It's been amazing, just to have family come up, hang out and be able to go to the game. It's awesome to be able to see everybody, be able to have my mom and my grandma's home-cooked meals, get everybody around the table and truly reflect and be thankful for everything. It's been awesome."
Q: You've been a part of a long line of successful tight ends to come out of the University of Iowa. How much did watching the tight ends before you help you?
A: "A ton. Being at Iowa and learning from guys like George Kittle, Dallas Clark, [Scott] Chandler, [Marv] Cook, Tony Moeaki, there's so many guys that have gone through that program that, when you're there, you just know that you're part of it and you're next in line to be one of the greats. That was just my biggest thing and that's been the biggest stepping stone in my career, just to be able to learn from guys like that and be in that culture."
Q: You've participated in Tight End University — which Kittle helped create — both times the program has happened. What's the experience of participating in something like that?
A: "It's amazing. Having guys from all over the league come and hang out and bounce off ideas, bounce off how you do things; how you run things; how you transition, there's a ton that we learn from each other, and just having that every year is amazing. It's a great opportunity for guys to come and meet each other [and] hang out. It's funny because we basically all have the same mannerisms, we're the same personality so when we get a lot of those guys in the same room, it's cool."
Q: What were your impressions of new teammate Irv Smith, Jr., from TEU?
A: "He was in the same draft class as me. Irv's a great guy. He's a dude that I've always been pretty close with. He's a great tight end and he's just a guy that you know what you're getting from. It's cool to be here and be in the same room with him. We'll get him healthy and then we'll have a little fun."
Q: You're a die-hard Disney fan. How did that love for that start?
A: "Really my sister. Growing up with her, she was always watching the Disney shows. My brothers put us on them, too, but just being with her it was more the Disney princesses and all those movies. The classics are what I grew up with and that's really where the love for it went. My dog's name is Lilo after [the movie] Lilo and Stitch, so Disney's always been close to my heart. We went there this past offseason and had a blast. That's always been something that's real close to me, so hopefully we'll get another chance to go there."
Q: This might be difficult to narrow down but what is your all-time favorite Disney movie?
A: "My all-time favorite Disney movie is The Lion King. I wore the lion socks to my draft because it was my favorite movie and just the whole dynamic of it and just all the little life meanings in there that they had, it's just such a great movie."