Ben Leber talks tackling, life after football

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Former NFL linebacker Ben Leber led a youth football tackling clinic hosted by the Sanford POWER Football Academy by Riggs Premier Football in 2018 at the Sanford Fieldhouse. Philadelphia Eagles linebacker and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native Nate Gerry helped with the camp.

A Vermillion, South Dakota, native, Leber played 10 seasons in the NFL, suiting up for the San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams. During his career, he recorded 496 tackles, 24 sacks and five interceptions.

Sanford Health News caught up with Leber to talk about getting young athletes excited about the game of football and how he is able to stay in the game after retiring from the NFL.

Why do you like helping with youth football clinics?

I love seeing the eagerness of kids to play football. The game doesn’t get celebrated as much as it should. The numbers are declining, and I can see it in the parents that live near me. They say they’re not as interested in putting their kids in the sport. So this camp is one more way to show the youth the game, and we’re trying our best effort to make the game safer. I also hope they can see the passion that myself and the other coaches have for the game.

What’s your message to the kids who come to these clinics?

One of the things I had to learn was the belief that I can play the game. There was a part of me that didn’t believe. One of my messages is to get the kids to know you can’t fully commit to anything until you fully believe you should be there. They should start practicing an internal belief system. If they really want to be good at football, they need to know about the time and sacrifice it’s going to take and accept and embrace the everyday challenge that is football. Maybe I didn’t love the game with a passion, but I loved the challenge that football brought.

You have made a smooth transition from playing football to covering football. What do you enjoy about your role as an analyst and reporter covering the Minnesota Vikings? (Leber is a KFAN contributor who is the radio sideline reporter for the Vikings as well as a college football analyst.)

I knew when I left, I still wanted to be somewhat centered around sports and football, if possible. After going to a couple of broadcast boot camps, I thought this was it for me. I wanted to talk about the game, have the flexibility to be around my family, work from home and travel. It really checked all the boxes.

You participated in the Wounded Warrior Football game during the week of Super Bowl LII in St. Paul, Minnesota. How have you been able to keep in such good shape since your retirement?

I always enjoyed working out. Nobody had to tell me to get in the weight room growing up. I don’t do as many heavy weight, but lots of pull-ups and push-ups. Cardio has been a revolution. I tried going for runs, and it would kill me because of my knees. I now box and do a lot of cycling. I’m probably in better cardio shape than when I was when I was a player, although it’s a different type of cardio.

The Vikings will hold training camp at the new TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minnesota, after traveling to Mankato, Minnesota, for 52 years. What are your best memories from training camp in Mankato?

The best part was being forced to hang out with the guys. A lot of people didn’t like being away from their family, but in Mankato you were forced to form these bonds and have meals with your team. I remember the afternoon scramble to link up and play Mario Cart, Yatzee with (Chad) Greenway and Jared Allen. Rooming with Chad (a Mount Vernon, South Dakota, native) was one of the greatest experiences as a player. We were able to connect on a deep, personal level and you wouldn’t get that if we weren’t in Mankato.

The Vikings were a game away from the Super Bowl last year. How far can the team go this year?

They should be able to go to the Super Bowl and win the thing. They’re aligning themselves with expectations to do that. This has to be the most pressure and most expectations they’ve ever put on themselves. With the pieces they have and the youth they have, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be Super Bowl contenders for the next three years. They shouldn’t be scared to say it’s Super bowl or bust.

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