At this football camp, everybody’s gifted

Alexander Mattison coaching campers
Photo by Charles Hallman

Alexander Mattison was the 102nd pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, but to 150-160 local youth, he’s number one in their eyes.

Mattison, the fourth-year Minnesota Vikings veteran running back, last Friday held his I AM GIFTED football camp at Hamline University’s Klas Stadium. He, along with other current and former NFL players, worked with kids teaching football skills and techniques while also stressing mental health and awareness and other life skills.  

Related Story: Parents grateful for football/life skills camp

We first met Mattison a couple of weeks ago at St. Paul Public Schools headquarters. He told us his story of growing up in San Bernardino, Calif. doing his best to be the best student and person he can be. The 24-year-old married man, soon to be a father as he and his wife are expecting their first child in August, wants to give back to the community where he is now working and living.

Speaking exclusively to the MSR between taking selfies with campers and others, Mattison reiterated his desire to be part of the Twin Cities when he’s not playing football “and let the kids know I’m right here in arm’s reach—and so are their goals, and so are their dreams and aspirations.”

“He has a big heart,” declared Pearl Mattison, his mother. “He’s always there to listen and to give advice, and not only giving advice but also speaking on his experience and how he overcame certain challenges and obstacles in his life he’s been through.”

Mattison played high school football, track and wrestling. He committed to play football at Boise State, where he starred for three seasons (2016-18) before entering the 2019 NFL Draft. 

Since becoming a Viking, Mattison has rushed for nearly 1,400 yards, grabbed 54 catches, and scored six rushing and two receiving touchdowns. As he reached his dreams, the player recognized that many others he grew up with didn’t. He wants to do his part to help this generation of youth reach their dreams and goals as well.

“He’s like me,” said Greg Bell, a retired seven-year NFL player (1984-90) and Notre Dame graduate. Bell knows Mattison’s family and has been his mentor for most of his life.

“We were raised in the inner city,” added Bell, a Columbus, Ohio native now living in California. “He has the same passion to want to see kids live a dream. I knew when he was in sixth grade…and it’s just great to be able to watch [him now].”

Bell has spent most of his post-NFL life working with youth, holding summer camps, and running after-school programs. He also helped Mattison get started running his camps, first in San Bernardino and now in the Twin Cities. Each camper got lots of swag with the I AM GIFTED logo on them, plus a meal—all at no cost.

“There’s so many players that charge for camps,” noted Bell.

Said Mattison, “Growing up, being able to have the opportunity to go to Greg Bell’s Athletes for Life camp was really life-changing, where I was able to see more than just football skills but life skills and combine the two, and understand how [to be] going through life, and understand that there’s a way for you to do that successfully and navigate that successfully.”

Kids of color and all kids need “those positive words of affirmation of ‘I am gifted. That’s how the brand was born. We want to make sure that we tell every kid that I am gifted, you are gifted, and hopefully they walk away from each camp believing that,” said Mattison.

Mattison and Bell both declared that I AM GIFTED camp is here to stay. “We got a late start this year, but it’s a good start,” said Bell.

“We want these kids to be able to look in the mirror and say ‘I am gifted’,” concluded Mattison. “I really believe it.”