Faith, family and football.
That was a favorite phrase of former Vikings coach Dennis Green, but in rookie safety Kyries Hebert's case, that alliterative phrase not only serves as an indelible expression, it has become the moral compass that helps shape and prioritize his entire value system.
Hebert, an undrafted free agent from Louisiana-Lafayette, wants nothing more than to accompany the Vikings north to Eden Prairie, and a few weeks later to Champagne, Ill. for the regular-season opener.
Ever since the Vikings issued their post-draft phone call to the Bayou, Hebert has committed himself to doing whatever was required to stay with the team and find a way to survive cuts and remain on a National Football League roster.
It's one of his highest priorities, yet it may not even show up on the same radar screen as his family — wife Kristina and 18-month-old daughter Kaylynn Rose (and another on the way) — and his faith.
"Anybody who has their head screwed on right pretty much knows where blessings come from," Hebert said. "Without God, there would be no me. This wouldn't be happening for me right now."
It is hard to differentiate what fortune Hebert is talking about. In the football world, his story is the exception, not the rule.
There he was, this small-college football player that — thanks to his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame — packed a big punch. Yet he didn't attend the NFL combine for college seniors last season, and probably because of that failed to get drafted. Four months later, he's already climbed an NFL team's defensive depth chart to places many draft picks never reach.
Even though there are two definitive weeks remaining before the regular season, Hebert already has cause for celebration. You get the feeling, though, that Hebert is smiling for a whole different set of reasons. Hebert, who turns 22 in October, already has a wife, a daughter and another child coming soon.
Admittedly, they make the beacon that lights his entire life. "They make my world go around," Hebert said. "I have a lot of roles to fill. Being a father figure is more than filling two aspects of my life. I have the father role, the football player role, the husband role, and I still from time to time play the role of big son to my mom.
"I just pretty much try to be there for my wife, and try to be a good role model for my daughter. So that all keeps me busy."
Unlike most recent fathers, Hebert is afforded a luxury. Knowing the physical demands football inflicts on a body, Kristina permits Kyries an uninterrupted night's sleep, even when baby Kaylynn Rose feels otherwise.
"I've been spoiled. I get to sleep every night," he said. "My wife takes care of that. She was really understanding about me having to get up for two-a-days in college and in training camp. She knew we all had our roles, just like any other team. My role was to go out there and work. The baby's happy when I come home and it's nothing but play time for her and me."
Interceptions and bone-crushing tackles are Hebert's highlights at work. Opening the door and seeing his daughter smile is the gem at home.
"It's an added love to my life," he said. "It's another piece of joy. Whenever everything is going bad, or it seems to be pretty bad, or things seem to be pretty down, you can always go there for happiness."
But even Kaylynn Rose's smile couldn't take away the pain Hebert felt last April.
After a college career where he finished with 270 tackles, second-most for a defensive back in Louisiana-Lafayette's history — behind former Vikings safety Orlando Thomas — Hebert had high hopes of getting that coveted phone call on NFL Draft Day.
Hebert had resigned to thinking he'd probably get drafted in a later round on the second day of the draft. Still, the NFL wanted him, he figured, and it would be one of the more memorable weekends of his life.
But his hopes were quickly silenced. For a moment, so was his promising future.
"I heard things that I'd go anywhere from the third to the fifth round," Hebert said. "I got calls, but it didn't happen.
"Initially, I was expecting to get drafted on the second day. So my expectations of getting drafted on the first day weren't really high. But then I got a call from my agent on the first day and he said we might go today, so I was really excited and pumped.
"Then the next morning came, and I went to church and prayed on it. Then it didn't happen, but through prayer, everything is possible. Hey, look what's happening now. Everything worked out. When you pray, sometimes you don't get things exactly how you want it. But God knows what's best and it always works out."
It didn't take long to work out for Hebert.
After agreeing to terms as a free agent with the Vikings seemingly minutes after the draft, Hebert quickly made impressions on the coaching staff during offseason rookie camps and minicamps.
In fact, after two weeks of training camp, defensive coordinator/secondary coach Willie Shaw made this bold prediction: "I could see a scenario where we're starting two rookie safeties at Champagne, Ill."
Shaw was talking about Hebert and third-round draft pick Willie Offord. Both will play for the Vikings this season, although the team may take a more conservative approach of having one rookie safety with one veteran safety. In an attempt to minimize mistakes, the Vikings' conventional thinking leads them to believe the best scenario may be working Hebert along slowly as a backup, with Ronnie Bradford on the field with Offord, rather than having two rookie safeties patrol the defensive backfield.
Regardless of which scenario the Vikings choose, Hebert, the Cinderella safety from Lafayette, is happy he belongs.
"I'm never a long-shot," he said. "I've always had my head on straight and my eyes looking forward. I never look back to what happened on draft day. I said, ‘OK, this is what happened, but this is what I have to do. I have to stay focused, go out there and, as long as I'm competing to be the best guy out there, I shouldn't have to worry about the next guy behind me.' "
It was just another day of practice in training camp that included another offense vs. defense drill, sans tackling. Hebert was working with the first-team defense, this time during a red zone drill. From the 5-yard line, running back Doug Chapman broke through the line and appeared to be headed for the end zone. Hebert flew up to the 1-yard line, where he collided with Chapman, sending the veteran to the ground, 1 yard short of paydirt.
A few of Hebert's teammates celebrated the hit.
"Settle down, settle down, settle down," linebackers coach Brian Baker yelled as he jumped up and down, reminding his defense the drill was designed for execution and evaluation, not contact and collision. But the play was appreciated.
Chapman, on the receiving end of the hard lick, patted Hebert on the back of the helmet. It was just one of a handful of impressive plays that Hebert made that morning in Mankato.
"We like his energy as a rookie free agent," Vikings head coach Mike Tice said. "We expect him to compete for that defensive back job. He's an outstanding young talent."
Hebert has already opened the eyes of critics, routinely making his presence known — and felt. With the regular season rapidly approaching, he continues to have an impact on a coaching staff who ultimately will make the final evaluation of which personnel remain on the roster. After getting consideration as a starter early in the summer, Hebert's preseason debut got him a demotion to the third string, albeit potentially tempory.
But wherever he ends up on the depth chart, whenever he goes home after another day of practice at Winter Park, Hebert's front door will swing open and he will once again be reminded what matters most to him.
"I go home to my daughter and we spend time together," Hebert said. "Everything else levels back out and it refocuses you. … It keeps things where they need to be."
Favorite Vehicle: 2002 Cadillac Escapade EXT
Current Vehicle: 2002 Cadillac Escapade EXT
Favorite Movie: Hannibal
Favorite Actors: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino
Favorite Actress: Cameron Diaz
Toughest player ever faced: Cecil Collins
Getting To Know: Kyries Hebert
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