By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
E.J. Henderson’s second career with the Minnesota Vikings is on the same path to success that he experienced with the first one.
A two-time All-America linebacker at Maryland, Henderson was selected by Minnesota in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He’d lead the team in combined tackles three of his first five seasons, and was voted as the Vikings’ Defensive MVP by his teammates in 2007. Three years later he was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl.
“I think I put together, overall, a good career,” Henderson said. “The Pro Bowl I made was pretty special, getting to take the family to Hawaii and be a part of the atmosphere with all the top players. Winning a couple NFC North titles and being part of the run that made it to the (2009) NFC Championship Game even though I was hurt. That was special to be on that team.
“And the three years I got to play with my younger brother (Erin, now with the New York Jets) at linebacker. To see him develop as a player and have those moments when our family came to the games and watched us play, those were some of the highlights of my career.”
Retiring after nine seasons (2003-11), Henderson remained in the Minneapolis area and founded Youth Pro Fitness and Nutrition, for which he is still the CEO. In August 2014, he rejoined the Vikings as their youth football manager.
“The opportunity was the first position that they had open up in that area as far as youth football,” Henderson said. “Brad Madson, our community relations director, sent me the job request. I thought it was a good fit. I was still looking to fill up all my time throughout the day in the field that I was used to, working with kids in athletics and football. So it kind of all fit my brand.”
By coordinating many projects not only in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area, but throughout the state, Henderson has tackled the responsibilities that come with being the youth football manager with the same passion he demonstrated as a player.
“We just finished up a three-day Vikings Kids Camp in Mankato,” Henderson said. “Over the next four weeks, we’ll be going around Minnesota. This week I’m in Rochester for three days. And then in mid-July, we’ll be going to Duluth for Vikings Kids Clinics. Flag football, skills and drills are basically what the camps are about.
“As far as other projects, we had an NFL Flag Jamboree in partnership with National Flag Football. We had eight teams come to Winter Park and participate for their NFL Flag season. And last month we had a Women, Wine and Football event at the Preview Center, our new stadium downtown. We had moms and women of Minnesota come for an evening of concussion awareness, wine tasting and a lady from American Heart Health talked about heart health. It’s one of our big events.”
Having the name recognition that comes with starring for the Vikings has been a huge advantage for the NFL Legend as he meets with youth and adults around Minnesota.
“It helps being involved with the alumni doing camps, clinics and going to different places as compared to another youth football manager from another team that might not have played,” Henderson said. “The kids, that’s always a treat for them to be able to talk to me about my games and playing in the league and different questions that they might have. The name recognition definitely helps keep the kids in tune and gets them excited about the actual program. And it keeps them looking forward to the next time that we have an event.
“I like being around the kids and not in the office all the time. I love still being around the NFL and cheering for the Vikings. Being on the business side, I see the intricacies of not just what goes on in the locker room, but on the business side. I get to see the ins and outs of how the operation side works.
“So I think those three things, working with the kids, I always enjoy that. They always give me energy. Not being in the office all the time, and being around the Vikings and around NFL football. Those are three things I really enjoy.”
As busy as his schedule is and as much as he enjoys his position with the Vikings, Henderson feels the best thing about his life today has nothing to do with football.
“I have two daughters, Emari and Enaji, that I love dearly,” Henderson said. “I spend a lot of time with them. That’s one of the best parts of being a dad. I didn’t really realize until I had these girls, how beautiful it is and how much of a blessing it is to have kids and try to pass on some of the things that you’ve learned. That’s one of the best things of being me right now, being able to have the freedom and time to be with my kids.”