MINNESOTA, USA — If you search for the word "underdog," Adam Thielen's name can be found next to it. After a successful 10-year run with the Vikings, the 32-year-old wide receiver was released on Friday.
"If you asked me back then which one of my teammates would go pro, I wouldn't have picked him," former Minnesota State University football player turned coach, Chad Henning joked.
Thielen grew up in Detroit Lakes, a smaller community known for its stunning lake-life scenery located three hours from the Twin Cities.
"He was just a fun kid that everyone wanted to be around," Thielen's high school football coach, Rob Nielsen said.
Before he was a football star, Thielen excelled at several sports. He played baseball and basketball. He was also a state champion golfer. Thielen's talents on the football field surpassed them all when he competed in a high school all-star showcase and got the attention of Minnesota State University (Mankato).
"They saw something special in him," Henning said.
Thielen was offered just a $500 scholarship to play Division II football. He accepted and was redshirted his freshman year.
"He was someone that had an incredible work ethic," Henning said.
Thielen was a part of a major transition at Mankato as the program evolved. He played from 2008 until 2012. He was a very flashy player until his senior year when he recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
“I’ve always kept the mindset that I could achieve my goals, though I knew it was never going to be easy,” Thielen once told the St. Cloud Times. “I’ve been driven to try to prove people wrong.”
After not receiving an invite to the NFL Combine, the undrafted wide receiver was invited to try out for his hometown team at Mini Camp in May 2013. It just happened to be on the same field he played on at Mankato.
"I came here to earn everything else everyone came here for, to have a job and make the team," Thielen told KARE 11 back in 2013.
As someone who grew up idolizing Chris Carter and Randy Moss, Thielen said in 2013 that playing for the Vikings was something he dreamed about since he was a kid. He earned himself a spot on the Vikings roster that year for special teams.
In Nov. 2014, he started making a splash after blocking a punt and running it in for a touchdown. His first passing touchdown came from Teddy Bridgewater in December 2014.
"He's a good guy, and competes every day in practice. He goes hard," former Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer said at a press conference in 2018.
Thielen went on to defy the odds of being undrafted and made two Pro Bowl appearances for the Vikings. He had 70 catches for 716 yards and six touchdowns last season.
"Adam Thielen jerseys are going to be around for years and years to come because people can relate to him," Henning said.
He leaves the Vikings organization behind his heroes (Moss and Carter) in reception yards (6,682) and touchdowns (55). He is only the fourth undrafted player ever to record more than 50 touchdowns in their career.
His impact off the field will be missed just as much as his game on it. The Thielen Foundation has donated millions of dollars to various Minnesota communities.
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