Reporting Shane Kitzman
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MANKATO, Minn. (WCCO) — It was a genuine connection that separated itself from the onslaught of Vikings fans clamoring for their favorite NFL star’s attention.
Before training camp began on Friday morning at Minnesota State University-Mankato, Bob Raeth caught the attention of his favorite player in purple: running back Lex Hilliard.
Sincere smiles and small talk ensued.
And how couldn’t it?
Raeth hails from northwestern Montana -– Kalispell, to be specific -– and just wanted to wish his former Flathead High School track star good luck before the three-week long camp. Hilliard’s high school football highlight tape was second to none, Raeth said.
“It’s a thrill to see him (today),” said the retired physical education teacher, who still coaches some field events for Flathead High School. “I really didn’t want to bother him. I just wanted to let him know I was cheering him on.”
Hilliard, out of the University of Montana, hasn’t seen much playing time since coming into the NFL four years ago. He’s spent the past three seasons with the Miami Dolphins somewhat buried on the depth chart.
But that didn’t keep Raeth from driving more than 1,000 miles to wish a former shot put standout all the best with his new team.
“He was such a tremendous running back for Flathead,” Reath said. “He was kind, and had an attitude of always caring for his teammates.”
This wasn’t Raeth’s first trip to training camp. He’s a Brownton, Minn., native.
“I remember going to training camp when it was in Bemidji,” he said.
How do you spend your vacation days?
Bill Keech, of Le Center, will spend eight days – yes, eight days – at Vikings training camp this year in Mankato.
“I have been coming to camp since the days of Bud Grant,” he said.
He sported a signed Chad Greenway jersey on Friday, as his son, Richard, wore a dated and yet infamous jersey – No. 84, Randy Moss.
“We’ll be in the VIP tent next week,” Bill Keech said. “We were a big part of Minnesota Momentum, getting the Vikings stadium passed, so it’ll be fun to sit and hang out with lawmakers.”
Shaun Mattson received a memorable phone call earlier this week.
It was his dad saying they snagged some on-field access passes for the Vikings training camp on Friday and Saturday.
“It was a sweet phone call to get,” said the 19-year-old undergraduate attending UMD.
Percy Harvin signed Mattson’s hat at the end of Friday’s walk-through practice.
AJ Davidson, 15, probably has more frequent flier miles than you do.
The 15-year-old’s father is the Vikings offensive line coach, and because of Jeff Davidson’s job, the family has spent time in North Carolina, Massachusetts and Ohio, just to name a few.
Wherever Jeff got hired – whether it was with the Patriots or the Browns – the Davidson clan followed.
Lucky for AJ, he’s enjoying Minnesota, and attending Eden Prairie High School.
“Luckily for me, this past winter wasn’t too bad, because I really don’t like the cold,” he said.
There are fans and then there are fans.
Brett Gardner is the latter.
Not only did he get his Percy Harvin card signed by the standout wideout, the card is of Harvin back when he was a Florida Gator.
Nathan Roberts wasn’t expecting it.
The 8-year-old from Mankato was just sitting on the sidelines when Vikings backup quarterback Joe Webb hustled on over, tossing his sweatband to the youngster.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “I actually thought was going to give me his autograph instead.”