Many Minnesota Vikings fans remember Randall McDaniel, who was a Pro Bowl guard for the team from 1988 to 1999.
He was inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame 10 years later in 2009.
But as his football career ended, a new one was just getting started here in Minnesota.
Nearly 500 students spend their day at Neill Elementary School
in Crystal, and so does McDaniel — five days a week.
“The kids love him. He is just this personality in the building that is gregarious, he’s kind, he’s willing to do whatever our kids need,” said Neill Elementary Principal Jodi Markworth.
She says what many of these kids need is some extra support; one-on-one time with an adult who can help them with reading and math, and offer a kind word when emotions get in the way of learning.
“It’s why I love working here,” McDaniel said. “I love trying to make that difference in a child’s life. And I love seeing that light-bulb moment with the kids that I work with and the kids in the class when they finally get it.”
McDaniel’s work in schools started when he was playing for the Vikings in the 1990s. He went from being a volunteer in classrooms across the Robbinsdale district to becoming a full-time educational assistant at Neill Elementary 10 years ago.
“A lot of kids don’t get to see a male in the classroom, a male of color, someone who looks like them,” McDaniel said.
His message to young boys who dream of becoming professional football players is one that often surprises them.
“The only way we’re going to get to see you is if you do the work in classroom. So if you’re struggling in reading or math, and you’re not turning in your homework on time, and you’re setting those habits up not to do well to succeed, then I’m like, ‘No one is ever going see you,'” McDaniel said.
He credits a special teacher in his own childhood for planting the seed, and helping him pursue his passion for kids.
“They keep wanting me to come to high school, but I’m like, if you can work with the kids early, give them that good foundation, that base to build on so they can always fall back on that, I think this is where it’s at,” he said.
McDaniel and his wife run Team McDaniel, a community service program where they support youth activities in the Twin Cities.
He says the most challenging part of his work in classroom is managing the furniture. He has been known to take a seat on a table or small chair and have it collapse under him because of his size.
He turns 53 years old in a few days.