ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - The main objective this time of the year is usually football, as the Minnesota Vikings get deeper into the offseason program during organized team activities. But in addition to playbooks this week, the purple are also picking up ones of a different kind.
The team visited Highwood Hills Elementary in St. Paul on Wednesday for a book fair. Players and coaches helped students pick out three books while taking the time to read with them inside the classroom.
"It’s just about any opportunity we can to connect with people as human beings," Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell said of the team’s visit. "Let them see us and understand that there’s a face and a personality that goes with us."
A rare chance for children to come face to face with a pro.
"For them, they’re infatuated with your size," Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said. "The kids are like, ‘Hey, you’re like 79 years old!’"
Players are not that old, but it has been a long time since events like these for the Vikings. The COVID-19 pandemic limited their team community interactions over the last two years.
"It’s important that we look them in the eyes and show them that we were once in their shoes," Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "It’s important that they see we’re one of them."
There was an afternoon of bright smiles for both players and students, but one under a cloud of somber feelings. A day after the awful events in Uvalde, Texas.
"It hit me extra special in a way to be a positive for some of these kids that may or may not know what’s gone on and transpired around our country that’s happened way too much," O’Connell said.
"Kids need to be able to go to school and go home, go into school every day and feel good about being there. It’s really important, and obviously our thoughts and prayers are with everybody affected by the shootings in Texas," Vikings offensive tackle Brian O'Neill said. "The main thing for us is supporting the people who support us, and giving them a reason to feel good about going to school. Lately there’s been too many reasons not to."
A day for players to turn the page back to their own childhood while helping the future write their own stories.
"Everyone’s hearts are heavy from what happened yesterday in Texas. We can’t ignore that, everybody was talking about it on the bus coming in. It made it that much more important for us to be here," Kendricks said. "The youth is the future. It’s what’s really important, you get a sense of that as soon as you walk in the door. We’re all kids at heart, and we need to embrace that more often. We need to laugh a little bit more, embrace each other more, and just love."