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Memories will be flowing as Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs returns to his home

WASHINGTON -- When Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs greeted kids at an event last summer in St. Paul, he showed off his large hands. Diggs invited the youngsters to touch palms to provide a comparison. He then put a photo of that on Twitter wit...

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs lays out to pull in the quarterback Sam Bradford's pass in front Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs lays out to pull in the quarterback Sam Bradford's pass in front Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

WASHINGTON - When Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs greeted kids at an event last summer in St. Paul, he showed off his large hands.

Diggs invited the youngsters to touch palms to provide a comparison. He then put a photo of that on Twitter with a comment.

"When the kids notice you have Mickey Mouse gloves for hands lol,'' he wrote.

The 6-foot, 191-pound Diggs, though, used to not joke like that. When he was growing up in Maryland, outside Washington D.C., he was self-conscious.

"I used to keep them in my pocket a lot because they were bigger than the normal kid's,'' Diggs said.

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Eventually, though, Diggs realized he had an asset. While playing football in a youth league, the Gaithersburg, Md., native suddenly was snaring all sorts of passes.

"After I started playing football, around like 9 or 10, they were really useful,'' Diggs said. "I guess it worked out in the long run.''

It sure did. Diggs, 22, last weekend against Detroit had 13 receptions, the third-most ever in a game for the Vikings. He has team-highs of 48 catches and 546 yards on the season despite having missed one game because of a hamstring injury.

On Sunday, the second-year man will make his first NFL trip to his home area when Minnesota plays at Washington. Don't be surprised if plenty of memories will be flowing for Diggs, who has gotten about 30 requests for tickets, but will provide just four himself for family members.

"I'm definitely excited to see my mom and just to get back to playing (in) my old town," Diggs said.

Diggs excelled at the University of Maryland before being taken in the fifth round of the 2015 draft by the Vikings. Before that, he was a youth league star and one of the nation's top recruits at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md.

Diggs had enrolled in 2008 at Good Counsel, a prestigious Catholic school, because that's where his father, Aron Diggs, wanted him to go. His father died of congestive heart failure at age 37 in January of that year, when Stefon was in the eighth grade.

"He was my best friend,'' Stefon Diggs said.

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When Diggs was 5, Aron Diggs was his first football coach. And he hardly took it easy on his son.

"He wasn't a pat-you-on-the-back kind of guy,'' Stefon Diggs said. "He expected a lot out of you. He expected you to just play well and do things the right way, so that's where it comes from with me.

"He made me the player that I am now. I'm tough on myself. I'm my own worst critic. I approach it like that. I don't pat myself on the back. I expect to do well if I work hard.''

When Aron Diggs' health began to decline, he continued to coach Stefon, but had to sit in a chair during games because he was too weak to stand. When his father was on a list for a heart transplant that would never come, Diggs assisted him with everyday tasks.

"I would help him with a lot of stuff, like putting on his shoes,'' Diggs said. "It was rough. You can only imagine being a young kid and that's your father. It was hard watching your dad go through it.''

It was especially difficult when Diggs was 14 and his father died. He left his son with some parting words.

"He said just look after my little brothers,'' Diggs said. "I got two little brothers. 'Just do what you got to do for your little brothers and keep them on the straight-and-narrow path.' ''

Diggs has an older sister, Porsche, 25, and an older brother, Aron, 26, but he played football at Shepherd (W. Va.) University late in the past decade. So Stefon said he became a "father figure" to Darez, 20, and Trevon, 18.

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Diggs' mother, Stephanie, works as a train attendant for Amtrak. His name is a combination of his parents' names.

Diggs calls his mom "Superwoman'' for how she was able to raise her children after her husband's death, but he was glad to help out any way he could.

Darez is now a cornerback at Alabama-Birmingham, and will have two years of eligibility when the school resumes its football program. Trevon is a freshman receiver at Alabama.

Darez has a different mother than Diggs and didn't grow up in the same household. Darez, who lived a half hour away in Washington, said he didn't meet his brother until he was 11.

"My father was bringing me some shoes right around my birthday and I came outside and there was somebody with him, and I didn't know who he was,'' Darez said. "And he said, 'This is your brother.'

"We've been very close ever since we met. As the years went on, it just picked up. We talk nearly every day of the week now.''

Darez said Stefon regularly provides life and football advice to him and Travon, who has eight catches this season for the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

An Alabama official did not make Travon available because school policy is freshman players can't speak to the media. Stephanie Diggs did not agree to an interview.

When Diggs was helping his father through his health issues and beginning to look after his younger brothers, he still was able to find plenty of time to excel in football. Coach Bob Milloy said Diggs already was well known when he enrolled at Good Counsel, an expensive school in the acclaimed Washington Catholic Athletic Conference that offered him financial aid.

"I first saw him in the seventh grade and people already were talking about him then,'' Milloy said. "Nobody could catch him.''

By the time the speedy Diggs was a junior at Good Counsel in 2010, he had developed into one of most explosive high school players in the country. Diggs, who caught passes, ran the ball, returned punts and kickoffs and played cornerback, scored 38 touchdowns his final two seasons.

"In one game, (the other team) kicked off and Stefon returned it 90 yards for a touchdown,'' Milloy said. "So the next time they kicked off, they tried squibbing it, and he picked it up and went 80 yards for a touchdown.''

Diggs averaged 20.1 yards per catch his final seasons at Good Counsel. One could say his big hands really were starting to pay off.

"One of his biggest assets are his hands,'' Milloy said. "I used to watch him before games. The quarterback would throw him a spiral and Diggs would catch it with the tip and wrap his hand around it. I had never seen anybody do that before.''

After helping the Falcons to a No. 1 ranking for three straight seasons in the Washington Post's AllMetSports Top 20 poll, Diggs was recruited by most of the nation's top programs. He elected to stay home and play at Maryland.

"It was a major get for us,'' said Mike Locksley, who was then Maryland's offensive coordinator and played a primary role in recruiting Diggs.

Locksley has developed a close relationship with Diggs' family and is now the offensive analyst at Alabama, although Travon actually had committed to the Crimson Tide before Locksley got there.

It didn't take long for Diggs to make an impact with the Terps, catching 54 passes for 848 yards as a freshman. He immediately impressed Maryland coaches with his work ethic and determination to win at everything he does.

"He thrives at competition in anything,'' Locksley said. "He'll even compete with somebody to see who can tie their shoes the fastest.''

Darez Diggs laughed when he heard that story. He said his brother has gone so far as to "see who can drink water the fastest.''

Diggs' last two seasons at Maryland were riddled by injuries. As a sophomore, he broke his leg in the seventh game against Wake Forest and sat out the final six.

As a junior, Diggs suffered a partially lacerated kidney in the ninth game against Penn State and missed three games. He surprised some by returning for the Foster Farms Bowl against Stanford, and caught 10 passes for 138 yards to finish the season with 62 grabs for 792 yards.

"It was my last game to prove everything that I can bring to the table,'' said Diggs, who knew heading into that game he planned to declare early for the draft.

The draft, though, didn't work out the way Diggs had hoped.

Perhaps it was his college injuries or rather slight frame. Diggs fell to the No. 146 pick in the fifth round before the Vikings finally snagged him.

"Being drafted that late is something that to this day, he still holds onto,'' said Locksley, who was with Diggs on draft day. "He still has a chip on his shoulder.''

Diggs has written on his Twitter page, "In the making... 5th round draft pick.'' There were 19 receivers taken before Diggs was selected.

"In his head, he knows who was taken in front of him,'' said Vikings safety Antone Exum, a close friend who has known Diggs since he was at Good Counsel.

Diggs gained a chip on his other shoulder as a rookie. He was inactive for the first three games.

"It's different than in college,'' said Minnesota wide receivers coach George Stewart. "There's not a spread offense here, you have to go against better personnel. It's a learning process, and coach (Mike) Zimmer always talks about, 'You're not getting onto the field until you're ready.' ''

Diggs sure was ready when he finally stepped on the field. He caught six passes for 87 yards in his debut at Denver, and took the NFL by storm with 25 receptions for 429 yards in his first four games.

Diggs leveled off a bit, finishing the year with 52 catches for 720 yards. This season, though, Diggs is showing no signs of a swoon, having caught 21 balls over the past two games.

"Just as far as preparing the right way, doing the best,'' Diggs said of his play. "Just as far as attacking each day with the mind-set that you've got to get things done.''

His work ethic comes from his late father. Darez Diggs said his brother also got the "big hands kind of gene" from their father, who was 6-3, 280 pounds and had played basketball.

"For a receiver with his hands, you look at (Vikings hall of famer) Cris Carter,'' Stewart said. "He had big hands. Those things help because you got a chance to catch the football and cradle it. (Diggs has) made some big-time catches.''

When Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs greeted kids at an event last summer in St. Paul, he showed off his large hands.Diggs invited the youngsters to touch palms to provide a comparison. He then put a photo this photo on Twitter with a comment. “When the kids notice you have Mickey Mouse gloves for hands lol,’’ he wrote. (Photo ctsy Diggs)
When Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs greeted kids at an event last summer in St. Paul, he showed off his large hands.Diggs invited the youngsters to touch palms to provide a comparison. He then put a photo this photo on Twitter with a comment. “When the kids notice you have Mickey Mouse gloves for hands lol,’’ he wrote. (Photo ctsy Diggs)

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGSFOOTBALL
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