At 6-foot-2, Minnesota Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson is mature physically, but admittedly a bit of a kid trapped in a man's body.
His daily pre-practice routine is only the beginning. Whether it is on the fields at Winter Park or at training camp in Mankato, Minn., Simpson has his own warm-up ritual. It starts with a hop, then a twist with a kick in the air before he sprints across the field. In Mankato, that sends him towards the fans, where they start applauding as he runs the length of the field parallel to the stands. During the first week of training camp, his warm-up included a somersault to pacify some fans requesting a flip to mimic his famous aerial touchdown last year with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'm just always energetic, always trying to find something fun out of everything. You can't be serious with this game all the time. I've got to be loose and just be yourself," Simpson said.
"People wanted me to do a front flip, so I did a little barrel roll or whatever."
One way Simpson describes himself is "weird." He might be right about that, but his routine and style add some entertainment to the dog days of training camp for a roster of 90 players toiling in heat that often reaches into the 90s with added humidity.
"I'm kind of weird, so I just do weird things to loosen my body up and that (pre-practice ritual) is one of the weird things I do that helps me do that," Simpson said.
"First, I just do a little spin kick and jog over and then I just try to do a little leap to loosen my hips up. Run to the sideline and then I run to the other end zone and just basically have a routine to get loose."
While there may be a physical benefit in Simpson's routine, there is also an emotional one as he tries to loosen up a receiving group that suffered more than its share of setbacks last year. According to head coach Leslie Frazier, Simpson's carefree attitude and willingness to have fun with others extends beyond the receivers meeting room.
"He does have an interesting personality. He's another guy who brings some energy. Doesn't say a whole lot, but when he says something he has a way of making you smile," Frazier said. "He's one of those guys who plays lights out in practice, diving for balls, making the hard catches. He's one of those guys who messes with those rookies when we're in meetings. We have a policy where we don't haze the rookies, but (the veterans) have their way of making the rookies let them know what school they attended. He's one of the ring leaders in doing that."
There is a method in Simpson's madness, however. He uses his personality to keep things light, but he also knows when to scale back and become serious.
"I know when to do it and when not to do it," he said. "You know how to turn it on and off. I know when to joke around then be serious at the same time."
It became apparent from the outset of training camp that Simpson likes the quirky. He showed up wearing a large Norseman logo on a chain. When it was time to head off to the first meeting, he passed by the mountain bikes loaned to the team by a Mankato business and grabbed his own bike, one you'd expect a second-grader to be riding.
"I did a lot of tricks when I was (growing up). When I was back home in North Carolina, we used to have our own little bikers club. We used to ride around the city and everybody would always try to compete with who could do the longest wheelie and we used to jump this little stump. It wasn't a real ramp, it was a little tree stump and we used to always see who could get the highest and farthest.
"I could go pretty far. I think I was the top guy in my neighborhood that popped a wheelie the farthest. Maybe 30 yards."
Simpson has never competed in a BMX event – "couldn't risk getting injured," he said – but he does enjoy the trails in Minnesota. For those, he'll break out one of his other, more traditional bikes.
"It's just something that takes me back to being a kid. It just keeps me young," he said. "I feel like riding my bikes and just having fun."
If a grown man and professional athlete riding around the campus of Minnesota State, Mankato on a little trick bike makes him weird, Simpson is fine with that. It isn't the first time he would surprise people that don't really know him.
"I just like to do weird things. Some people think I wouldn't do (things) like hunting and turkey hunting and everything. They wouldn't expect me to do that but I do," he said. "I can get along with anybody, so I just try to be myself and let my personality show, be the best person I can be."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Jerome Simpson: From bikes to barrel rolls
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