ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

FOOTBALL: Minnesota Vikings, Brian Leonhardt host energetic youth camp in Bemidji

The Minnesota Vikings hosted nearly 200 local football fanatics for a free youth clinic at Bemidji High School, where droves of area children ages 6-14 tested their mettle in a rigorous gauntlet of drills, live competition and a demanding afternoon of fun.

071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP 7.jpg
Participants run across the field during a game at a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
We are part of The Trust Project.

BEMIDJI -- A swarm of purple rolled into town on Wednesday.

The Minnesota Vikings hosted 178 local football fanatics for a free youth clinic at Bemidji High School, where droves of area children ages 6-14 tested their mettle in a rigorous gauntlet of drills, live competition and a demanding afternoon of fun.

“It just grows excitement around the experience, the Vikings brand and the sport of football as a whole,” said Joe Rush, the Vikings’ youth and high school football coordinator. “If you can light a spark here and they… sign up, play and grow the game that way, that’s our goal.”

Also in attendance was former Bemidji State standout and NFL tight end Brian Leonhardt, who ran the kids through drills and offered instructional and motivational advice.

“It’s amazing that the Vikings are doing this,” Leonhardt said. “The biggest thing is to take the lessons you learned from football and use them in your life. Use them in the classroom, use them at home. … When it comes to what’s really important about football, it’s everything you learn from it.”

ADVERTISEMENT

071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP Brian Leonhardt.jpg
Former NFL tight end and Bemidji State alum Brian Leonhardt answers a question from a participant during a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Leonhardt spent parts of four seasons in the NFL, playing 12 games for the Oakland Raiders and four for the San Francisco 49ers between 2014-15. He also spent time on practice squads in Cleveland, Detroit, Arizona and -- most notably to Wednesday’s attendees -- Minnesota.

Leonhardt became just the second Bemidji State player to appear in the NFL when he made his debut in Week 1 of 2014. He logged one career touchdown -- a 3-yard catch from Derek Carr at Wembley Stadium in London.

Leonhardt was also an All-American at Bemidji State, and his 15 career TD receptions are the most by a BSU tight end all-time. In fact, he credited the university for many of his later successes.

“This is where I grew to be the football player I ended up being. It’s a place I hold dear to my heart,” said Leonhardt, now a real estate agent in the Twin Cities. “I can’t thank Bemidji State enough for giving me the chance to do it. It’s the only way I ever made it to the NFL. If it wasn’t for them, (I wouldn’t have). I’m grateful.”

071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP 1.jpg
A participant jumps into a tackling dummy during a drill at a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The Vikings’ camp has 12 stops across 10 cities this summer, mostly in Minnesota. The tour started in 2019 and had to pump to breaks for two summers due to COVID-19, but it’s back and rolling now.

Participants ran through stations that ranged from tackling to catching to throwing. Energetic coaches -- all Vikings employees -- lended plenty of expertise and perhaps even an enthusiastic cheer or two.

As for the kids, they were decked out in purple. Many wore “Vikings of Tomorrow” shirts from the camp, while some sported the jerseys of Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, Jared Allen and Randy Moss.

After running through drills all over the field, participants sat down with Leonhardt to ask questions ranging from his favorite NFL teammates to his most formidable opponents, and yes, even his annual salary.

ADVERTISEMENT

071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP 2.jpg
A participant practices a drill during a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“It’s really cool for kids to interact with professional athletes and see somebody local who made it,” Rush said. “With a guy like Brian, they can see somebody who grew up in Minnesota and worked hard, went a different path -- not going to a Division I college, not getting drafted -- and just worked his butt off and got into the league.”

Instilling values like worth ethic and classroom discipline stood out as the primary focus of Wednesday’s camp. Technical skills were secondary.

That’s the order it always went for Leonhardt. And look where it got him.

“Football has (made an) amazingly important impact on my life,” he said. “Not just from the NFL, but the skills and discipline that I learned in it. To be able to teach some of these kids and give them the opportunity to learn some of these skills too, I think it’s really important. It’s amazing that they put on things like this, make it fun for the kids and give them a chance to learn.”

071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP 5.jpg
Participants practice a drill during a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP 4.jpg
Attendees listen to instructions from a camp leader before practicing a drill during a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP 3.jpg
A participant practices a drill during a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
071622.S.BP.VIKINGSCAMP 6.jpg
Participants of a Minnesota Vikings youth football camp pose for a group photo on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
What To Read Next
Hull was a five-time 50-goal scorer, led the NHL in goalscoring seven times, twice won the Hart Trophy and was voted a First-Team All-Star on the left wing 10 times.
Two major donations were announced on Saturday during a Hockey Day Minnesota television broadcast on Bally Sports North from funds raised during Bemidji’s Hockey Day event that took place in 2019.
It was another perfect Sunday with clear skies and comfortable temperatures on Garfield Lake. Thirty-three racers and crews filled the pits, and the oval track was surrounded by hundreds of fans.
The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to letters@bemidjipioneer.com or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.