Vikings cornerbacks dedicating season to late teammate Jeff Gladney

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When Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler arrived for training camp last Tuesday, he held up a No. 20 Jeff Gladney jersey. When he took the field for practice the next day, he wore a helmet visor that had an image of Dantzler and Gladney alongside one another.

Gladney, a first-round pick by the Vikings in 2020 and a starting cornerback as a rookie, died in a car accident in Dallas on May 30. Dantzler, a good friend, is dedicating this season to him.

He’s not the only one. Minnesota cornerbacks Harrison Hand and Kris Boyd also say they are using 2022 as a tribute to Gladney.

“We were very close,” said Dantzler, a third-round pick in 2020 who also started as a rookie. “He was like my blood brother, my mother’s child. Everything I do (this season) for the first time, I’m doing it for him. Every good play, I’m going to point to the sky.”

The No. 31 overall draft pick out of Texas Christian, Gladney started 15 of the 16 games he played in 2020 but was released by the Vikings last August after being indicted in Dallas on a charge of domestic violence. He sat out last season.

At trial in March, Gladney was found not guilty and then signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Dantzler said he was excited to see him resume his career.

“I know how bad he wanted to be out there,’’ Dantzler said. “It still doesn’t seem real.”

Gladney, 25, and his girlfriend, Mercedes Placios, 26, were killed in an accident at 2:30 a.m. on Memorial Day on a Dallas freeway. According to police reports, Gladney’s Mercedes SUV was traveling at an excessive rate of speed and spun off the road before crashing into a brick ball and igniting into flames.

Dantzler learned of Gladney’s death while sitting on a plane in Houston, where he had been for the weekend before returning to Minnesota for the May 31 resumption of organized team activities. He had been planning to visit Gladney in early June.

“I had talked to him that night (of May 29),” Dantzler said. “My mom texted me (May 30) and asked if I was all right on the part of Jeff. I was like, ‘What happened to Jeff?’ And she was like, ‘He died in a car accident.’ I didn’t believe it.”

When Hand heard the news, he was at his home in Cherry Hill, N.J.

“My mom sent it to me,’’ said Hand, a fifth-round pick in 2020. “We have a group chat. It just shocked me. I almost broke out into tears. It’s sad. It’s a tragedy.”

Hand wore No. 38 as a rookie before he switched to No. 20 last season after Gladney was released. He also plans to use this season as a tribute to Gladney.

“Definitely trying to keep his memory alive,” he said. “I’m actually wearing his number now, and that’s a blessing, as well, this season for Jeff. … We were definitely pretty close. We were both the nickels (in 2020) and we were always talking and laughing and comparing notes.”

Hand expected Gladney to have a bright future with the Cardinals.

“He really would have excelled,” he said. “He came in (to the NFL) and already had a top-tier game.”

Boyd, who was in his second NFL season when Gladney arrived in 2020, had known Gladney longer than any Vikings player. Boyd is a native of Gilmer, Texas, an hour south of Gladney’s native New Boston.

“Me and Jeff grew up in East Texas together and we’d known each other since high school, my freshman year (of 2011),” said Boyd, who played for TCU’s Big 12 rival Texas. “I’m dedicating this season to him. I’m going to give it my all and leave everything I can out there on the field and do it is his name.”

Boyd said he was the only current Vikings player to attend Gladney’s funeral on June 4 in New Boston, although he said former Minnesota guard Dakota Dozier also was there.

“It was a (sad) experience,” Boyd said. “You can’t really say too much unless you were there, but it was definitely what I needed. … That’s my brother. I know he’s looking down on us now.”

Dantzler had planned to attend the funeral but his son got sick. He sent flowers to the family and plans at some point to visit Gladney’s grave in New Boston.

“With him not being able to play the game, I just feel like everything I do will be dedicated to him,” he said.

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