*EAGAN, Minn. – *Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer set aside his affinity for defense over the weekend.
While hosting the Mike Zimmer Foundation Youth Football Camp Saturday, the usually stoic sideline presence was quite animated, leading more than 300 young people in the SKOL Chant and throwing up his arms to celebrate touchdowns and big catches.
“I’m all offense, baby,” Zimmer told media members with a laugh.
Before kicking off Organized Team Activities this week, Zimmer enjoyed the opportunity to spend time teaching a younger generation of athletes.
“This is a relaxing, fun time,” Zimmer said. “Some of them get in the stance, and they have the wrong foot back, so I’d help them [with] things like that, that maybe they’ve never done before. But it’s fun. All these kids, they just love being here in this unbelievable facility.”
Zimmer hosted his first youth camp last spring at Winter Park. This year’s event took place at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center and spanned two days, allowing 700-plus Twin Cities young people access to the free camp.
One of Zimmer’s two daughters, Corri Zimmer-White, runs the foundation and said that growing the camp to Saturday-Sunday had been a goal.
Corri smiled as she watched her father directing kids on the field and cheering them on.
“He’s having fun out there, and it’s really exciting to watch,” Corri said.
Zimmer was joined on Saturday by Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo, defensive line coach Andre Patterson, quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer and senior offensive assistant Todd Downing.
Also there to support Zimmer and spend time with the youth were a number of players, including several rookies and veterans Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Kevin McDermott.
“I think it’s really important and means a lot to the kids. They see a player walk onto the field, and they look up and their eyes get big and bright,” Corri said. “Learning from some of the best is awesome, and the support from some of the coaches and players who showed up really means a lot.”
Barr and Smith agreed that it was an easy decision to participate in the camp, not only to help Zimmer but to hang out with the youth.
“It’s been fun, a lot of good energy out here. Always happy to help support Coach, and they put on a great event,” Barr said. “I’m just happy to be out here enjoying the vibes, the positivity, and it’s been a good day.”
The linebacker joked that the typically straight-laced Zimmer had gone “a little soft” with the younger group.
“I don’t really know who I’m seeing today. It’s not something I’m used to,” Barr quipped. “But no, it’s good. All the points that he gives us, I think they apply across age groups. He’s a good leader of men and leader of [youth], so I think they’ve picked up [some things from] him.”
Smith, who hosts a youth camp of his own during the summer to support the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, emphasized how valuable the events can be for young people who want to learn more about football.
Smith referenced his own youth football experience in Tennessee, where he was coached by former Vikings tackle Tim Irwin.
“It’s another experience for them. Hopefully it will introduce them to something that they’ll love, build their self-confidence, get them out here, get them running – out of the house, just having fun,” Smith said. “I know those things helped me a lot growing up, being around a human being like Tim Irwin. He taught me life lessons and how to be a better person, how to be a better football player.
Added Smith: “Hopefully if we can reach some kids today and tomorrow, that’s what it’s all about.”
Along with members of the Vikings, Pro Camps coaches helped lead the youth through a variety of football drills, from skills-based lessons to miniature scrimmages that took place within age groups.
Races determined the fastest campers from each age level, and character-based awards – including one that recognized a young lady as “best teammate” – also were given out.
Zimmer reminded the young people about the importance of nutrition and encouraged them to stay focused on academics and finish out the school year strong. And as for summer? He urged them to take breaks from electronics and get outside.
“What we’re trying to do is get the kids active, help them with education,” Zimmer said. “But really at the end of the day, it’s about promoting football to young kids.”
Zimmer also values time spent with his three adult children through the foundation, which was established to honor the life of his wife, Vikki, who passed away suddenly in 2009.
“The reason that we do this is because Vikki loved kids, loved being around sports,” Zimmer said. “It’s able to bring all of us together, and even though she’s not here, she’s still part of it.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer hosted his second annual Pro Camp for local youth it it's first year at the TCO Performance Center.