The Vikings have named former linebacker EJ Henderson the director of youth football for the Minnesota Vikings. Henderson, who was drafted in the second round by the Vikings in 2003, has been with the Vikings his entire nine-year career, both as a player and post-playing executive.
The one-time Pro Bowler and should-have-been Comeback Award Winner has played 125 games for the Vikings and continued his involvement in the organization and USA Football as a promoter of youth football and development. Henderson was selected out of a rotation of 150 applicants.
Said Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs Lester Bagley, “We’re very excited about it—we’ve been working on this for a couple of years, creating a role. It’s a huge issue for our ownership and the NFL.”
“We’ve put together a position description and put together a gameplan and did an exhaustive search, and we’re very excited to welcome EJ back into the fold. He’s always done a great job in our community as a player and since he was a player.”
The Vikings have been working with Henderson for some time in regards to youth football. Owner/president Mark Wilf said in a statement released by the Vikings, “E.J. has been a special part of the Vikings organization for many years as a player and alumni member, and we are thrilled to have him join us as part of our front office staff.”
In 2007, EJ Henderson founded the EJ Henderson Youth Foundation and partnered with the NFL’s Play 60 message in order to keep children healthy and active. He was later selected as the Vikings Community Man of the Year. After his career, he spearheaded YouthPro Fitness and Nutrition (YoPro).
Henderson says the two primary focuses of the organization will be player safety and health along with expanding the outreach of Minnesota youth football initiatives outside of the Twin Cities area to outstate Minnesota. “[We] want to make sure the coaches, parents and players know that the Vikings leadership are serious about [player safety].”
When asked, Henderson mentioned his work with the Heads Up Football initiative sponsored by USA Football as a means of reducing concussion incidence and encouraging player safety. He said there was “no question” that this is how he envisioned his post-playing career, and that his experience watching his dad work with youth at his local youth center (where his dad still works) helped inspire him to take this role. “I love to mentor kids. I love to give them the knowledge I’ve learned, not only in football and through sport but life lessons. It keeps me young, it keeps me running around.
“Those are the big three reasons. I’m used to it, I love working with kids and I love to give that mentorship that I have learned in my 30-plus years.”
Of the hiring, Bagley said that EJ brings “instant credibility and visibility in this role and position,” while Brad Madson pointed out that EJ’s “charisma, confidence and ability to connect with kids” allowed EJ to stand out among the other applicants. EJ’s experience working with youth football programs played a significant role as well.