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Thielen paved the way for fellow MSU-Mankato alumnus

MINNEAPOLIS -- Adam Thielen has heard many descriptions about him in recent years: Hard-working guy. Local long shot who made the NFL. Gritty special teams player.

Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) following the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Cardinals 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) following the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Cardinals 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Adam Thielen has heard many descriptions about him in recent years: Hard-working guy. Local long shot who made the NFL. Gritty special teams player.

Thielen, though, had longed to show much more.

The Vikings wide receiver made the NFL in an unexpected way. The Detroit Lakes, Minn., native was undrafted in 2013 out of Minnesota State Mankato, and came out of a Vikings rookie tryout camp to earn a berth on the practice squad.

In 2014 and 2015, Thielen got spot duty at receiver, having a total of 20 receptions. He has emerged this season, though, as an impact player, catching 52 passes for 657 yards,

"I've put enough out there that people know I'm not a joke and I can play in this league at a high level,'' Thielen said.

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People called him a joke?

"Maybe just how I got to where I am,'' Thielen said. "People pegged me as a work-hard guy and you know. ... That's how I got to where I am. I am a work-hard guy, but at the same time I have abilities and, like I said before, I feel like I've put enough out there to show that I'm not a joke. I'm not just a guy out there to fill a (roster) spot. I'm out there because I can make plays.''

For anyone who thought Thielen simply provided a feel-good story about a local guy making the Vikings from a Division II school, he has developed into much more. Thielen is the team's second-leading receiver and is coming off a seven-catch, 86-yard game Dec. 1 against Dallas.

Next up is Sunday's game at Jacksonville, which will feature the only two players in the history of Minnesota State Mankato to make the NFL. Starting at guard for the Jaguars will be Chris Reed, who spent his rookie year of 2015 on the practice squad before earning a spot on their active roster this season.

"I think of Adam as kind of a pioneer by getting to the NFL out of our school,'' said Reed, who also went undrafted. "I really didn't have the aspiration to make the NFL until I saw Adam make an NFL practice squad his first year and then the next year the team.''

Reed agreed that Thielen has changed perceptions about him this season.

"I'm sure all those people that have looked at him probably just said, 'This is a tryout guy and he made the squad,''' Reed said. "But he's definitely shown that he's become a real player.''

Thielen showed his worth on special teams in 2014, including being named NFC special teams player of the week for a game against Carolina, which included blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown. He had one significant outing last year at receiver, catching six balls for 70 yards at Denver.

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This season, though, Thielen has become a key target.

"I think it started in training camp, but he also made a great catch in Tennessee the first game, a couple great catches,'' Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's made some great catches. The more you do that, the more chances you get.''

Thielen had four receptions for 54 yards in the Sept. 11 opener at Tennessee. He's had six other games this season with 50 or more yards receiving, including seven catches for 127 yards Oct. 9 against Houston and eight grabs for 53 yards Nov. 24 at Detroit.

"It's kind of funny he said he was looked as a joke because we always joked with him that teams always left him wide open before, so he probably was looked at as a joke,'' said Vikings receiver Jarius Wright. "I think a lot of people looked at him like, 'He's just a special teams guy.' But Adam Thielen is actually a great receiver.''

Despite his statistics, though, Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said Thielen still doesn't always get the respect he should.

"I still feel like people overlook him,'' Patterson said. "I'm talking about defensive coordinators or (defensive backs) because it seems every game, he always making a play. But he likes it when people overlook him.''

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