The Vikings lost in Week 1, but they received encouraging results from one of the most important players of their 2021 season, with star pass rusher Danielle Hunter returning to the lineup after missing all of 2020 with a neck injury. Not only that, but Hunter also got to Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow for his first sack of the year, bringing his career total to 55.5 in just over five healthy seasons. Moving forward, Hunter is determined to be the force that steadies and drives Minnesota's defense.
Hunter is one of the game's most physically imposing defenders, boasting a uniquely toned 6-foot-5, 252-pound frame off the edge. On paper, his resume had already established him as a perennial Pro Bowler, with former Vikings star Jared Allen predicting a 20-sack season in his future. But now Hunter is bent on getting after his opponents mentally and guiding Minnesota back into contention in the process.
It's a stark contrast to Hunter's mindset for what was an even more important endeavor off the field.
Days before he kicked off his season against the Bengals, the former All-Pro was part of a trio of Vikings to personally meet almost 50 boys and girls at TCO Stadium, the practice field at team headquarters. All the youth were visiting from People Serving People, Minneapolis' largest emergency shelter for homeless families. And all of them left with full stomachs and bags full of back-to-school supplies, thanks partly to the big man's help.
Alongside wide receiver Justin Jefferson and linebacker Eric Kendricks, Hunter partnered with SCHEELS to help distribute bags to the kids, outfitting each of them with brand-new shirts, pants, underwear, socks, shoes and a light jacket. With the Vikings Table food truck in the background, serving free meals to all the guests, he also offered autographs and words of encouragement to the crowd. Some of the kids sported Vikings' gear, but none of them knew they'd be visiting Vikings players and leaving with gifts.
"It was a great feeling," Hunter said, "giving back to the kids that weren't able to get what they needed. They came from families that weren't fortunate."
Recalling his own childhood in Jamaica, where the pass rusher was born and raised, Hunter related to the needy families.
"Me, I wasn't fortunate," he said. "I always remember Christmas time, I always remember the feeling of not necessarily having everything. Nobody knows these kids' situations. And these kinds of things help."
Just like Hunter strives to succeed in more than one way on the field -- with both physical and mental tenacity -- he believes the surprise back-to-school service will benefit kids in multiple ways. The physical contributions, from meals to new clothes, are tangible, but Hunter believes they'll also help boys and girls know they're cared for. And that kind of work is worth far more than another sack.