E.J. Henderson rejoins the Vikings to direct youth football programs
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MANKATO, Minn. -- E.J. Henderson's NFL playing career began and ended in Minnesota, and that's where his retirement will continue.
Henderson, 34, was named to the Vikings front office as Youth Football Manager, per executive director of public affairs Lester Bagley.
"We've been working on this a couple years," Bagley said. "Creating a position and creating a role...We did an exhaustive search, had 150 people apply. It was a very competitive position and it came down to this, bringing EJ back into the fold."
Henderson played all of his nine NFL seasons in Minnesota, ending in 2011 after his contract expired. He suffered a broken left femur in 2009, but returned the following season to make the 2011 Pro Bowl. However, lingering ailments slowed the productive linebacker in his final contract year and he hasn't played since.
Though leaving the game before he wanted wasn't easy, Henderson laid the groundwork for this position while he was still in pads. He founded the E.J. Henderson Youth Foundation in 2007, focused on the NFL's 'Play 60' initiative for active youth. He's also founded other programs centered around youth fitness as the five-time Vikings captain looks to continue that path on the team's payroll.
"I've dealt with youth football with the Vikings since I was a player and even after I retired," Henderson said. "So this is an extension of that."
Henderson's community involvement, playing experience and high-profile status made him a top candidate, Bagley said, as the NFL aims to create a safer game, both through rule changes and teaching elements.
Henderson knows that starts at the youth level, where he'll now be working fulltime with the Vikings. He'll assist in all of the team's youth football programs, including the Vikings of Tomorrow, USA Football, Community Quarterback Awards, the All-State High School Football Team and Heads Up Football.
"The [safety] awareness across the past five years has increased 20-fold," Henderson said. "It's crucial for the future of our game, not only for the players but for the parents so they feel safe about sending their sons out there to play."