Photo by Cameron Wittig
Minnesota Viking wide receiver Adam Thielen.
Just a small-town boy, born and raised in south Detroit Lakes (or something like that): Adam Thielen was always a really good football player—an all-time-great at Detroit Lakes High School and then Mankato State University. But that’s not the clearest path to an NFL roster, and in 2013 the undrafted wide receiver had to stretch to even make the Vikings practice squad. Now, a year’s worth of hard work (and a new bride) later, the 24-year-old made the active roster. “You can win a lot of football games with guys like Adam,” says new coach Mike Zimmer of the local kid with the irresistabley unlikely story. Sounds like the stuff number 19 jersey sales are made of.
When you were still trying to make the team you almost took a punt return to the house against the Chiefs during the preseason. Describe walking back to the sideline after being within a whisker of 6. It’s gotta be one part, “that was awesome” and one part “goddamit!”
It’s a little bit of both. I mean, I wish I coulda took it all the way. There’s, you know, disgust. I mean, I wanted to make it all the way and making those cuts and having those blocks set up for me, I wanted to. But at the same time it was a good return and we set up a touchdown so you can’t be too mad about it.
As happens with punt returns, you started it surrounded by jerseys. You hear the term “running for daylight used a lot” but what do you really see at a moment like that?
It’s a lot different when you see it on film as compared to actually being in the moment. I mean, in the moment you don’t see much. You see the defender in front of you and your blockers for a split second, and it happens so fast that you’re not really thinking about much other than trying to make a couple people miss and try to get to daylight.
You’ve talked about carrying Detroit Lakes, MSU, and your fam on your back in a “if I make it to the NFL, they all make it to the NFL” kinda way. That’s great in theory, but also a whole new level of pressure.
It’s tough when you have that many people supporting you and that many people expecting you to make it. Especially now that things are starting to go well people are expecting me to make it and expecting big things. It adds pressure but it’s a good thing. I like pressure. I like being in the spotlight and I like having that all behind me. You need that behind you to succeed.
No kid grows up saying, “someday I want to be on an NFL practice squad”, but most, if given the opportunity, would kill for a chance like that. You were on the practice squad last year, what’s it like? Do you feel like a part of the team or kinda like an outsider looking in?
It’s different. It’s almost like redshirting as a freshman in college. You do everything the same as everybody else you just can’t suit up for games, which makes it tough because when you play the sport that’s the fun part of the game. That’s what you strive for. That’s what you practice for. And when you can’t play in those games it makes it tough. But looking back on it, I’m glad it happened that way. I learned alot from it and I got a lot better because of it.
Cordarrelle Patterson called you a “superstar”. What does praise like that mean coming from a guy with that sort of ungodly talent?
It’s pretty crazy. It means a lot. He’s a great guy. He’s a hard working guy. When a guy like that says good things about you it really means a lot. And, you know, being able to watch him practice and watch him play it’s helped me out a lot.
Speaking of Cordarrelle, you roomed with him in Mankato during training camp and in talking about how he likes to talk at night and you like to sleep he said, “He likes to go to sleep at like 10 o’clock . . . I need to just talk about things and talk about life, but he’ll be already asleep. I know he’s sleeping. I just go in there, open his door and stare at him sometimes.” Ummm, I guess it must be kinda flattering to have one of the most dynamic young playmakers in the game watching you sleep?
Haha. Yeah, I don’t think he quite meant it like that. He came over to me and was like, “Yeah, that didn’t sound right.” But he’d always creep in to see if I was awake and we’d always chat. And I think he overexaggerated what time I go to bed but, uh, no he’s a good guy and we’ve had a lot of conversations. Being able to room together for the last two years we’ve gotten pretty close and it makes it easy when you’ve got a guy like that as a friend.
In jest you started calling yourself the “Mankato Flash”. Between you and Cordarrelle who wins in the 40? In the 100? At fishing?
I’ll say I win every time, but we’ll have to see sometime. I think Cordarelle will probably win at the 100 . . . That’s not my thing. Fishing? I think I could outfish him, that’s for sure.
What’s the difference between a big high school hit, a big D-2 hit, and a big NFL hit?
How everything happens quicker. I mean, you might not see the big NFL hit. In the NFL, it happens so fast you don’t even realize it happens.
Detroit Lakes won a state championship in golf and you were on that team . . . Better golfer, you or Blair Walsh?
Uh. Me. For sure.
What’s scarier, getting married or the prospect of getting squared-up dead to rights be somebody like Patrick Willis?
Ummm. Being squared up for a hit . . . I think.