Players traded their blocking sleds and footballs for shovels and rakes Friday afternoon as part of the Minnesota Vikings' largest single-day community effort of the year in terms of the number of players involved.
Nearly the entire team, and more than 100 people from the organization, joined with almost 150 other volunteers from the community and Toro to help build a large playground and landscape the surrounding area at the American Indian Magnet school in St. Paul.
"They'll enjoy this," head coach Brad Childress said of the kids whose playground area and equipment expanded immensely. "They get to come out here on Monday and enjoy it for the first time (after the concrete dries). … It's about giving back from our organization and everybody in our organization that's here. We're excited, and our guys kind of get into it a little bit."
Most of them did. Inside the school, players visited with school kids, gave talks inside the classrooms and even helped with the dance students inside the school's gymnasium. It was there that defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, cornerback Cedric Griffin, wide receiver Bobby Wade and others fielded some interesting questions from the kids.
Wade was asked who is the best player on the team and, not surprisingly, said he'd like to think he is. Players were also asked questions about their potential touchdown dances and – the best question we witnessed – "do you stink after a game when you go home?"
But the main purpose of the community day was to get a new playground built. Players shoveled and hauled mulch on tarps, mixed concrete in wheelbarrows and poured it into the ground to anchor the new equipment, pick-axed hard ground, laid sod and performed other labor-intensive duties.
Childress was asked if there were any construction prospects among the group of players and said he didn't want to find any. "Hopefully … they don't quit their day jobs," he said.
The biggest controversy of the afternoon, when the players arrived after their morning practice, was which job each player was assigned.
"We had a little bit of moaning how it got divided up – who was mulching, who got to go to the classroom, who got to work the heavy concrete – but I assure it was completely random," Childress said.
Maybe, but defensive tackle Pat Williams was pretty sure his job as a manual mixer of concrete was related to his solid performance last year with a similar project in Minneapolis.
"I'm always working hard. I play nose tackle. Last year I did the same thing, concrete, and I'm pretty sure I did a good job," Williams said.
The star of the day, however, was not a current player. Numerous school personnel and volunteers were amazed at the work ethic and energy level displayed by director of college scouting Scott Studwell. According to eye-witness reports, Studwell arrived early in the morning and was his usual ball of energy in working a pick axe, hauling sod and anything else where he saw a need. He was still going strong by mid-afternoon.
Childress was asked if he could keep up with Studwell. "We worked on two-minutes (drills) back at the complex, so we were moving pretty good there, too – more the players than me, though."
Between players and front office personnel, most of the organization was involved and turned out a good project for a public school that offers an additional class to students that want to study their American Indian heritage more in-depth. With about 90 percent of the students in the poverty range, according to one school employee, it was obvious they could use the physical and financial support offered by the Vikings and Toro.
"I think with the Wilfs blessing, they'd like to do (a playground build) every year because they are all about helping this community, whether it's Minneapolis last year or St. Paul this year," Childress said.
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