St. James native Tyler Runge has always wanted to be able to give back to his community.
For the last two years, he has been involved with the Special Olympics Flag Football program.
"I have always been interested in being involved in an organization to donate my time," said Runge. "I thought this would be a great opportunity to take my skills and teach some other athletes who really haven’t had the opportunity to get coaching."
This past year, however, has seen Runge participate in an opportunity he never thought possible.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Vikings reached out to local Special Olympics teams and gave them a chance to submit an application to join the Vikings at their practice facility. As it turns out, Runge's team from Rochester was selected to share the Vikings' practice facility, the TCO Performance Center.
"I was pretty surprised to be selected," said Runge. "It was a great honor to be selected to represent the Special Olympics and Minnesota.”
The team practices every other Monday and has been able to meet with a handful of players, including Garrett Bradbury and Mackensie Alexander. The players and coaches also signed contracts and met General Manager Rick Spielman.
"Just like they would if they were drafted."
While Runge was excited to meet the players and coaches from the Vikings, the athletes he coaches were "over the moon" about meeting some of their favorite players.
"They know everything about the players," said Runge. "They know where they went to high school and where they went to college. This is something that’s amazing for them."
While Runge has taught the athletes the basics and fundamentals of football, his involvement has been a learning experience for himself.
His players have taught Runge the value of true sportsmanship, congratulating and cheering for those on the other team.
"They express their emotions a lot," said Runge. "They just get so happy, and that’s the best part.”
All these practices with the Vikings will eventually culminate with a trip to The Golden State.
Runge and his team will travel to Los Angeles in December to play prior to the Vikings game against the Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The Minnesota Vikings official team page has photos of the team under the community section of their photos page.