ST. PAUL – A local high school football team had a pair of surprise visitors Tuesday afternoon.
The clanging of weights and clamoring of young athletes quickly quieted when Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly and linebacker Eric Wilson entered the Highland Park weight room.
“I knew they weren’t part of the high school. They were kind of big,” quipped senior Seth Zeitchick.
Zeitchick, who plays running back and cornerback for the Scots, enjoyed the chance to pick the brains of two NFL players.
“It was cool talking to them – they gave us a lot of advice, they talked about their careers, their best moment. It was just cool having them around,” Zeitchick said.
Weatherly and Wilson stopped by to see former Vikings equipment being put to good use.
Highland Park Senior High School was one of seven high schools in the St. Paul school district that received donated equipment from the Vikings previous headquarters at Winter Park. In total, the Vikings donated more than $20,000 worth of equipment to local schools.
The Scots received seven pieces of equipment in mid-August that added a splash of Purple to the red-and-white weight room.
Highland Park Athletic Director Pat Auran thanked the Vikings for a “very generous gift” and spoke highly of the top-quality weight-training equipment.
“Our phy-ed teachers would run a basketball camp all weekend long, and [the proceeds] would cover one piece of equipment,” Auran explained. “So their eyes really lit up when they saw these [donated pieces].”
Having Weatherly and Wilson surprise the team Tuesday made the experience even more special.
“Look at how interested the kids are,” said Auran, gesturing to the young men huddled around the Vikings teammates. “They all have smiles on their faces. They’re truly enjoying it. These kids, you can tell how much they look up to them. It’s nice to see.”
Zeitchick expressed how grateful he and his teammates are for the equipment formerly used by the Vikings.
“It’s amazing,” Zeitchick said. “The equipment we had earlier was kind of old and rusted. We didn’t have that much, so now having this here, I feel like we’re able to do more and expand our variety of workouts. Just being in here as a team brings us all together.”
Weatherly and Wilson enjoyed bantering with the Scots players and giving them a hard time but also were quick to address more serious questions about training and preparing for the football field.
Wilson explained the importance of varying workouts.
“Some guys just focus on the squat or just the bench, but focusing on all exercises [is key],” Wilson said. “I could see that they understood that and that it resonated with them.”
Weatherly said it was fun to see first-hand the team’s gift benefiting a local high school team.
“It’s not one of those things where it’s donated, kept in a small area protected by velvet rope and labeled, ‘This is NFL stuff; don’t touch,’ ” Weatherly joked. “It’s being used, which is important. The types of machines we donated, we didn’t have [at my high school]; we had very basic free weights. So for them to have machines that target certain areas is clutch for them. Seeing them actually use it was pretty awesome.”
A number of the student-athletes showed off the machines for the Vikings, including senior linebacker/running back Ashlin Schultz-Perry, who bench pressed with Wilson as his spotter.
“It was cool to see [players] in a city school like this,” Schultz-Perry said. “I’ve heard about Vikings players visiting schools but never a St. Paul city school, so it was cool to see them here and to ask them questions about the game and about life.”
The high school players didn’t hold back from asking questions of the pros, ranging from favorite college class and pregame ritual to position-specific inquiries for the two defenders.
Weatherly was asked about playing defensive end and his go-to moves, and Wilson spoke with some of the Highland Park linebackers. The pair later said, however, that they most enjoyed answering a question about what it takes to get to the next level.
“Kids were asking me about my best memories of football … what was the recruiting process like, and what were some things that you did that set you apart?” Wilson said. “I just answered that it wasn’t the easiest process; I wasn’t the most hyped player, even on my own team. So [I had to] just keep believing in myself and trusting my own ability, keep working at the things I need to get better on.”
Weatherly said he would have asked the same questions in high school.
“Everybody thinks you have to be this prototypical football player to make it to the next level or to earn a scholarship, when in actuality, I was 6-3, 210 pounds coming out of high school, and I agreed to go play defensive end for an SEC team. So definitely not prototypical by any stretch of the imagination,” Weatherly explained. “But I was just telling the kids that I worked hard, I trained, I decided this was something that I wanted to do, and I gave it my all. And it eventually worked out.”
Schultz-Perry was encouraged and inspired by Weatherly and Wilson and said their visit made a big impact.
“I could ask them where they were when they were a senior in high school,” Schultz-Perry said. “They told me that I’m doing good and that anything’s possible as long as you keep working hard. You just can’t give up.”