MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Over their 52 summers holding training camp at Minnesota State University in Mankato, there's hardly a player in Vikings history more synonymous with this hilltop campus than Adam Thielen. Four years ago, Thielen was the NFL long shot who kept making diving catches during practice and drawing praise for his instinct and precision, doing exactly what an undrafted NCAA Division II product needed to do to make the roster.
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Over their 52 summers holding training camp at Minnesota State University in Mankato, there's hardly a player in Vikings history more synonymous with this hilltop campus than Adam Thielen.
Four years ago, Thielen was the NFL long shot who kept making diving catches during practice and drawing praise for his instinct and precision, doing exactly what an undrafted NCAA Division II product needed to do to make the roster.
Now he's an integral part of Minnesota's offense, with a big contract coming off a breakout season. After accumulating in 2016 a team-leading 967 yards receiving and 69 catches, including five touchdowns, Thielen signed through 2020 for nearly $10 million guaranteed.
He'll never forget that strong first impression he made in 2013, though.
"That just gave me confidence and kind of jolted me into having the ability to make the team," Thielen said, adding: "I'm just fortunate that, looking back on it, those things kind of went my way early in camp, because I think it could've easily gone the other way."
There was hardly a bottom-of-the-roster player at the time more popular than Thielen, considering he was auditioning as a pro in the same spot where he went from afterthought addition to the MSU program to star for the Mavericks.
The home-state player is always a fan favorite. The affable guy whose graduation ceremony was across the street and whose college practices were conducted on the same fields used by the Vikings to prep for the season? No contest.
"I can't remember anybody that was a hometown hero kind of guy," coach Mike Zimmer said.
Zimmer, who arrived in 2014, was responsible for awarding Thielen a spot on the active roster that year after a rookie season spent on the practice squad.
"He just makes plays when he gets opportunities to. That's why he continues to get more opportunities," Zimmer said this week. "He's a good route runner, uses his hands well, and he's tough. He can do a lot of dirty jobs. He's a really good athlete, but his competitiveness I think allows him to overcome some of his other things that he doesn't have."
The Vikings convened on Saturday night for a glorified practice under the lights at Blakeslee Stadium, where MSU plays home games. They'll break camp on Wednesday, leaving for good the placid riverside city at the edge of the state's southwestern swath of farmland and prairie. Next summer, Vikings training camp will be held at their new year-round headquarters being built in Eagan, a suburb of Minneapolis.
Thielen no longer needs to worry about standing out. He has already established his place along with Stefon Diggs as quarterback Sam Bradford's go-to targets, with tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receivers Michael Floyd and Laquon Treadwell also poised for key roles in the passing attack.
Entering his fifth season in the league, Thielen can still look fondly back at that first training camp and how beneficial it was to have it on his college turf.
"When you can kind of grab something that is familiar, that kind of keeps you calm and helps you just play football," Thielen said. "It was nice for me to come out and be familiar with the practice field and the game field and just have something that kind of relaxed me."