Jasper Brinkley -- one of the NFL's newest rising stars with the Minnesota Vikings -- returned home to Thomson during a break recently. Monday, he visited with approximately 90 fourth- and fifth-graders at R.L. Norris Elementary School during an after-school program.
Brinkley, a defensive linebacker and a former star football player at Thomson High School and the University of South Carolina, told the young pupils -- some of whom aspire to become professional athlete like him someday -- about his career and what types of adversities he had faced to get where he is today.
"A lot of people say I'm living my dream, but no, that's not right. I say I'm still chasing my dream," he said. "Every day I have to work hard to become a better person, a better athlete and a better father."
As he looked around the school's cafeteria, Brinkley commented that being there "brought back a lot of memories." He pointed to spots he remembered sitting in when he was younger. Since graduating high school, Brinkley has returned to Norris Elementary several times to talk with the pupils, along with his twin brother, Casper, who had a brief stint in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.
Brinkley ended the session by telling the children, "Football is our life right now, but at the end of the day, our education is going to take us farther than football ever could."
Some of the questions asked of Brinkley by the pupils during a Q&A time included:
What's it like playing with (Vikings quarterback) Brett Favre?
It's a great experience. It's like playing with your dad.
What was your hardest subject when you were in school?
Math. I didn't like math because it was hard for me.
What was it like to lose the (conference game)?
It was tough. I didn't even watch the Super Bowl because I was still hurt from losing that game. It was the biggest challenge of my life.
Did you play football when you were growing up?
I played for the rec department in McDuffie County, and I played for the Jets.
What was it like to walk out on the field your first game in the NFL?
It's a great feeling. It was my goal to start. I hate the way the position opened up to me, (when the starting player was injured) but it was great to start my first year.
Did you play other sports when you were younger, or just football?
I played baseball and basketball. But my hand-eye coordination was not good enough to swing the bat and hit a fastball. And I played a lot of basketball in the neighborhood, and that was bad for me. Because, when I tried playing organized basketball, the time I got on the court, I was fouled out.
Before you were drafted, what team did you want to be on?
The Raiders or the Falcons.
Did you start out playing linebacker when you were young?
I started out playing fullback my freshman year at Thomson High. But they found out I wasn't good at it, so they moved me and I've been stuck ever since.
Who was your first coach ever?
Carl Gunn at the Recreation Department.
Who inspired you to play football?
My cousin was short, so he couldn't make it. But, he showed us how to play and so I play for him.
Who is your favorite football player?
Ray Lewis. (linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens)
As a rookie, Brinkley got the opportunity to play in the NFC Championship game, where he made several tackles. The Vikings ended up losing to the New Orleans Saints for the right to go to the Super Bowl. The Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts to become Super Bowl Champs.
Staff Writer Billy W. Hobbs contributed to this story.