Minnesotans love their own, and in the Mankato area, we're not shy about reminding others that Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen spent four years going to college at Minnesota State.
But as much fun as it's been to watch Thielen go from undrafted rookie to Pro Bowl selection, and help the home-state NFL team advance to the NFC Championship game this weekend, he's not the only Minnesota State grad with a chance of playing in the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in two weeks.
Offensive lineman Chris Reed is grinding away in Jacksonville, helping his team prepare for Sunday's AFC Championship game at New England.
"It's been an amazing year," Reed said by telephone, taking a few minutes while relaxing at home after another day of practice. "Everything has changed completely here. You can tell everybody is together and wants to win. Everyone is doing the best they can."
Reed left Minnesota State a few years after Thielen. Reed's last game with the Mavericks was the 2014 national championship game, and at the time, he seemed like he had a brighter future as an Olympic shot-putter than professional football player.
Like Thielen, Reed went undrafted but did well enough in workouts that Jacksonville signed him as a free agent. He spent a season on the practice squad as he switched from college tackle to professional guard and has seen the field sparingly in the last two seasons, starting seven games.
This season, in the first of a two-year contract, he's been inactive for all but six games, including two in the playoffs, with three starts. He plays both guard positions and sometimes center on the scout team, giving the starters a good look at what the opponent will try to do in the next game.
"It is what it is," he said. "The coaches do what they need to do for the team, and I respect those decisions. It's important to know your role, and I do that to the best of my ability. I'm not satisfied. I want to be a starter in this league, and to do that, I need to keep working."
Getting to the playoffs was exciting, then defeating Buffalo in the first round of the players was even more intense. Last week, the Jaguars went to Pittsburgh and came away with a surprising 45-42 victory that included a lot of trash-talking. Now, there's a business trip to New England, where the Patriots are heavy favorites.
"Coaches always say there is (training) camp speed, and then there is regular-season speed," Reed said. "Playoff speed is another level. You're fighting to play another week, and it's a big challenge to play the Patriots on their home field. But that's what we want. What better stage is there?"
If the Jaguars win, Reed would return to Minnesota for the Super Bowl. And if things go well for the Vikings, there could be two Minnesota State alums playing in the biggest game of the season.
"That would be amazing but all my focus is on helping my team win this week," Reed said. "It's hard to win in the NFL, and it takes a collective effort."
Last season, Reed and Thielen were able to meet on the field in a regular-season game, but this would top that. Thielen has proved that it doesn't matter where you go to college, and good things happen to those who work hard.
"He's worked very hard for his opportunity; good for him" Reed said. "I'm trying to follow in his footsteps. Hopefully, things will pay off for me, too."
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.