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A Viking visit: Gerhart plays up “Play 60” in Woonsocket

Posted: Monday, May 6th, 2013

A Woonsocket student gets a handoff from Minnesota Viking running back Toby Gerhart who spoke to Woonsocket students Friday. In the next photo, Gerhart takes a group picture with students. Next, younger students take their turn getting handoffs from former Stanford Heisman hopeful and current Minnesota Viking Toby Gerhart. And next, Gerhart hands off to another student. PHOTOS BY MIKE CARROLL/PLAINSMAN

WOONSOCKET — The first-ever trip to South Dakota for Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart included a stop in Woonsocket on Friday morning as part of the Fuel Up to Play 60 School Champions contest, which is sponsored by the Midwest Dairy Council and National Football League.

Four South Dakota schools, including Woonsocket, were rewarded for their efforts to get active, eat healthy and make a difference in their schools. Woonsocket Elementary and Garfield Elementary in Sioux Falls were awarded the grand prize, which was a visit from Gerhart.

“We had all the kids in the elementary and middle school sign a Fuel Up Pledge to Play 60, which means a pledge to eat right and play 60 minutes a day,” said Armando Rodriguez, who spearheaded the effort, along with Jason Bruce.

“We held a school wellness investigation, where we kind of saw where we were nationally with not only our lunch and breakfast programs, but with PE and the national standards. Then we also had a family fun night, which we had all the kids come and we had football-related drills, a milk mustache booth, snack walk with healthy snacks, health fair with seventh and eighth grade,” he said. “Just a big kickoff event and then we completed the six steps to get entered into the contest and luckily we were chosen.”

Gerhart, who was drafted by the Vikings in 2010 during the second round (51st overall) out of Stanford, spent an hour at the Woonsocket gym on Friday. He spoke on the importance of eating right and staying active before fielding questions from the students during the assembly.

Following the question-and-answer session, Gerhart joined the elementary students in a short workout and then concluded his visit by handing the football off to each student, who then ran through a small obstacle course.

Students asked Gerhart what prompted him to pursue a career in the National Football League.

“As a kid I always idolized those guys on TV. My father was a high school football coach, so I grew up as a little waterboy running around idolizing the high school kids,” he said. “Our high school wore blue, so my goal as a kid was to wear a blue helmet on Friday nights. From there I got a chance to play college and once I got into college I was trying to get the final step to the NFL. Now I am living a dream and enjoying it.”

During his senior season at Stanford in 2009, Gerhart led the nation in rushing with 1,871 yards and touchdowns with 28. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting that season.

“Stanford was unbelievable; it was the best place ever. I would love to go back there; I am bummed that I graduated college because it was so fun,” Gerhart responded to a question from a student. “It was definitely tough., You had to learn a lot of things, whether it was time management or how to handle the education aspect, because school was just as hard as sports. You had to put the time in - late nights and early mornings studying, doing the things in the classroom, so I could go play on the field.

“Also having to do the other things off the field to maintain the strength and stuff like that,” he said. “It was fun. You had a good sports staff and a lot of friends doing the same thing there at the school, so it makes it worthwhile.”

One student questioned Gerhart on the transition from playing football in high school and college to the professional ranks of the NFL.

“There’s a lot more conditioning, a lot more running and getting into shape cardio-wise,” Gerhart said of the move from high school to college. “My high school had a pretty good weight program so I felt I was in decent weight strength when I got to college, but the cardio is definitely a rude awakening and then college to the NFL, it is a lot more about maintaining your body.

“In college its more about building strength and speed and in the NFL its more about staying healthy and protecting your knees, joints or whatever it may be. A lot more rehab and stretching based workouts than pure strength development.”

Gerhart discussed his approach to being successful in the National Football League in response to another student’s question.

“As a running back I refined a style. I’m more of a bigger back at 235 pounds compared to a lot of other guys who are 200-210,” he said. “I’m not as fast as everybody, so it’s more a refined style of breaking tackles and running through the aspect of it. I just kept pushing myself to try to get to the next level, whether it be work ethic or attitude. I just tried to remain positive and work to get to where I’m at.”

Students also asked Gerhart about the importance he placed on getting an education.

“As a professional athlete, our career can end any day. It takes one hit or throw a knee and I’m done. I can’t run as well as I could and then I’m out of a job,” he said. “If my whole identity was wrapped up in football, I’d have no future. I went to Stanford University, so I have a good degree from a good school if football doesn’t work out. Hopefully, I play another five or six years, but when its over, its over, and I’ll go into the real world.”

For the complete article see the 05-04-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 05-04-2013 paper.

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