MAPLE GROVE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder’s rookie season was a full of inconsistencies as he started 10 games after being the No. 12 overall pick out of Florida State.
But off the field, the Vikings didn’t see any consistency issues with their newly anointed face of the franchise. Ponder embraced his role as a starting quarterback in the NFL — by all accounts handling himself well in the locker room and meeting rooms — but also was a leader in community outreach. For Ponder, being involved in the community was going to be a focus wherever he landed in the NFL.
“I knew coming into this thing, wherever I got drafted I was going to divulge myself into the community and wherever I was living, and be here full-time,” Ponder said Wednesday at the annual Vikings Children’s Fund golf tournament. “And Minnesota’s been so great to me, I want to do as much as possible to give back and there’s so many opportunities to do that. Especially when you’re a Minnesota Viking, people want to have you out all the time. It’s fun. I’ve really enjoyed doing it.”
Ponder finished an up-and-down rookie season with a 70.1 quarterback rating after throwing for 1,853 yards on 54.3 percent passing with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Before breaking for the offseason, though, coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman emphasized Ponder was going to be their No. 1 quarterback for the foreseeable future. With his role as the starting quarterback secure, Ponder set out to make himself a team leader and a visible presence within the community.
He’s spent much of the offseason in the Twin Cities and is out in the public. He’s also been an active participant in many of the Vikings’ charity functions and team events.
Along with starting the most games of any of the team’s rookies, Ponder’s work in the community was noticed by Minnesota’s coaches and staff and he was honored with the first Vikings Children’s Fund rookie of the year award on Wednesday, recognizing his work on and off the field.
Coach Leslie Frazier is appreciative of his Ponder’s approach and knows the significance of the team’s quarterback taking a leadership role on the field and in the community.
“I think it’s very important because he sets the tone in so many ways for our football team,” Frazier said. “So when other young guys come to our team and recognize that our quarterback is one of the leaders when it comes to community involvement. Not only is he a good football player, but he’s a leader in that area, it’s got to have a spillover effect and that’s what you hope happens.”
A $5,000 donation in Ponder’s name was made to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. Helping the Amplatz Hospital is something Ponder feels strongly about. He said he noticed the work done by the hospital because his coach at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher, has a son who went to the hospital. Ponder said he also has worked with Special Olympics.
Frazier wanted to start the award and was surprised Minnesota didn’t present a similar award in the past.
“Really, it puts the spotlight on what they’ve done on the field but also what they are doing off the field,” Frazier said. “A combination of the two, which hopefully will increase guys’ willingness to get involved in the community and support our community. That’s a big deal. Christian understands that. So does Adrian (Peterson). So do so many guys on our team because so many kids look up to them.”
And with mandatory minicamp starting next week, Ponder is ready to get back to improving the team’s situation on the field.
“I had a lot of fun last year, but obviously I have a lot of things to improve upon,” Ponder said. “Knowing that the coaches and the players are behind me 100 percent is awesome. I really feel honored and humbled (about the award). It’s a great achievement, but I’ve got a lot to build on.”
Golfing for a good cause: The team held its annual Vikings Children’s Fund golf tournament at Rush Creek in Maple Grove on Wednesday. About 30 players and coaches participated in the event, along with team alumni and sponsors.
Ponder, who said his best round of golf is an 84, was playing with new receiver Jerome Simpson. Ponder said his golf game is “not as bad as some of the others.”
“Watching John Sullivan swing around on Monday made me feel better about myself,” Ponder joked. “When you’re swinging around your belly, it’s never a good thing. No, but me and Jerome Simpson are playing together. We’re trying to win this thing.”
All proceeds from the tournament go to the Vikings Children’s Fund, which has raised nearly $10 million since its inception in 1978, with over $5 million supporting research at the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics.