While Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is on a mission to Uganda, linebacker E.J. Henderson was busy Tuesday night on a mission of his own locally.
Henderson, who was presented with the 2009 Vikings Community Man of the Year Award, brought together youth from the E.J. Henderson Youth Foundation with student players from Coerver soccer for a night of fun and instruction at the Vikings' Winter Park practice facility. Henderson gave a message to students, but he also admitted that the boys at his youth center have helped support him in tough times.
Vikings fans recall the gruesome image of his leg snapping on Dec. 6, but Henderson said he is "definitely" coming back and has his target date in mind.
"I'm definitely going to play football again," he said. "I really don't think that's a question at this point, barring some freak occurrence. I'm definitely going to play football again. It's just a matter of whether I'll be back in July or August.
"I'm on schedule where I need to be. Like I said, hopefully continue (toward) August. I'm on schedule. That's about all I can really tell you."
The visual was just as convincing. After spending time on a scooter toward the end of the season, Henderson was able to shed his cane about three weeks ago and was walking without assistance on Tuesday night.
Henderson was hesitant to elaborate too much on his injury or the mental struggles he dealt with trying to come back from an injury for the second straight offseason. He missed the end of the 2008 season with multiple dislocated toes and his 2009 season ended Dec. 6 in Arizona with the fractured femur.
"It's been pretty tough. I don't really want to get into that right now. I think you all know it's been a tough process, but nothing but uphill now. I think the work's behind me. I'm looking forward to this summer," he said.
Henderson received the Vikings' Ed Block Courage Award for his comeback last year, and he used that gathering of NFL recipients on March 9 in Baltimore to learn more about a youth center there. He also found that other NFL players had suffered as much, if not more, than he has.
"Some of the things they went through made my toe injury look minimal," he said, referencing the federal prison term served by Eagles QB Michael Vick and former Jaguars tackle Richard Collier's fight to survive multiple gunshot wounds, paralysis and amputation. "It was good to be with some of those guys that went through those tough trials and be there right along with them, to realize that some of the things you go through are not really all that tough. It was a good experience."
And it's a lesson he's been trying to pass onto the youth he works with at his foundation in Eden Prairie.
"Hopefully these boys see that sometimes bad things happen and you can recover. Teach them life lessons every day," Henderson said.
But even before his injuries, Henderson was focused on his foundation and giving back to the community. It's something he learned from his father, who has spent about 20 years working at a youth center.
When he was growing up, Henderson said he found his local youth center to be a "safe haven," somewhere he could go for lock-ins that lasted into the wee hours of the morning.
"(It's) being able to teach the boys something that I really know with the training, different life skills that go on when you're 13, 14, 15 years old for some of those kids that don't have a father or uncle or big brother at home," he said. "Me and some of my guys, I think, can be mentors for them. That's the kind of program I try to model mine after and I think it's working."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Henderson giving back, coming back
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