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A warm welcome: Western North Dakota sentimental area for former Minnesota Viking

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Former Minnesota Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser, right, signs the back of Brayden Barnhart’s jersey during Menard’s grand opening on Monday in Dickinson. Barhart of Dickinson is wearing a Kleinsasser jersey.

Western North Dakota remains a special place to Jim Kleinsasser.

The former Minnesota Vikings tight end/fullback remembers traveling to his grandparents’ house between the Belfield-Medora area when he was younger.

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“My mom’s side of family is from out here,” said Kleinsasser, who grew up in Carrington. “Our big vacation of the year was coming out, driving through Dickinson and going to the Belfield-Medora area to my grandma and grandpa’s, and spending a couple weeks there. I feel at home here. It brings up a lot of memories driving back. It’s always nice to come back here and see some of the same, old faces.”

After a standout career at the University of North Dakota, Kleinsasser was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 1999 draft. Kleinsasser spent his entire 13-year career with the Vikings.

During his time in the NFL, Kleinsasser had 192 receptions for 1,688 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 43 carries for 147 years and a touchdown.

Kleinsasser retired after the 2011 season and said it has been different not suiting up on Sunday.

“It’s weird in the sense that you are so used to this routine and you’re on a schedule,” he said. “Even your seasons of the year go by your football schedule. That’s kind of how your clock works. It takes a little adjustment, not having that structure.

“Watching the game for the first time, it was weird. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and you feel you should be at the stadium right now. It’s kind of nice too, because you can sit back and not get banged up.”

Between 300 to 400 people showed up at Dickinson’s Menards for grand opening week to get an autograph from Kleinsasser. Menards is bringing in former UND hockey player Dave Christian on Wednesday and former Minnesota Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti on Thursday. Both autograph signings are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“It’s been a neat experience,” said Mark Kerr, general manager of Menards. “Somebody like Jim, who recently retired, you could tell a lot of people were excited to see him.”

Since retiring, Kleinsasser has spent time with his wife and two sons, who are 6 and 4 years old. He has also spent time fishing and being outdoors.

“It’s been a step back and just focusing on family,” Kleinsasser said. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to spend some big amount of time with them, which has been a huge help in the transition. They’ve been my everything.”

Kleinsasser hasn’t decided yet on what will be his career after football. For right now, he plans to continue spending quality time with his family.

“I kind said I wasn’t going to jump into anything in my first couple years (of retiring),” Kleinsasser said. “A lot of the guys that have retired say to take your time before you jump into anything. You have to know exactly what it is you are comfortable with doing. I’ve had such a great time with the kids and the family at home. That’s been a big for me.”