Seven years ago, Adam Thielen was the inexperienced rookie receiver, looking to learn from veterans as he tried to establish himself as an NFL player.
But now, he’s the veteran, doling out advice to any younger teammates, especially those new receivers.
“It’s weird how fast it’s gone,” Thielen said. “It feels like I’m still going on my second, third, fourth year, but I’m already going on Year 8. I like talking with the younger guys; it makes me feel like a senior in college again. I want to help guys learn.”
Thielen’s story is an oft-told one, getting lightly recruited out of Detroit Lakes before choosing Minnesota State, where he gradually became one of the best receivers in Division II. He went through a series of tryout camps before the Minnesota Vikings took a chance on him, stashing him on the practice squad for one season before he improved from a special-teams standout to Pro Bowl receiver.
He gives a lot of credit for his success to his training regimen at ETS Performance, where he is now a part owner. On Tuesday, Thielen and his associates, which include former NHL player Ryan Carter and former Minnesota State football player T.J. Schraufnagel, were talking about a new 4,000-square-foot fitness facility, located in the back of the Minnesota Valley Action Council building on North Victory Drive, that is scheduled to open June 1 in Mankato.
“Mankato is obviously close to my heart,” Thielen said. “I love the city; it’s a sports town. There’s been a lot of hockey success, football success, success in the women’s sports ... it’s very exciting. I wish I would have had the opportunity to train like this when I was a high-school or middle-school athlete. I think this will be great for the community.”
Carter played hockey at Minnesota State from 2004-06 before signing a professional contract with the Anaheim Ducks, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2007. He played for five organizations before retiring with the Minnesota Wild in 2017.
Schraufnagel was a top running back at Minnesota State from 1998-2000, getting 756 carries in just three seasons. He rushed for 2,952 yards, which ranks fifth in program history, and 31 touchdowns.
Carter and Schraufnagel will be co-owners of the Mankato facility.
“I take a lot of pride that I played (hockey) in Mankato and being a Maverick,” Carter said. “Mankato has had a lot of success in sports, and now I have an opportunity for a kid to take the same path I did.”
Carter said he thought he was diligent about working out during his playing days, but toward the end of his career, he realized how much he could benefit by the specialized training he received at ETS.
“I probably could have played longer and stayed more healthy,” he said. “ETS helped me to fulfill my potential.”
Thielen made 192 receptions at Minnesota State from 2008-12, ranking third in program history. He had 19 touchdown receptions and 2,674 yards receiving.
Thielen’s first season as an active player with the Vikings was 2014, and in the last six seasons in the NFL, he’s made 323 receptions for 4,315 yards and 25 touchdowns, with two Pro Bowl appearances. Without specialized training, he might never have made it through the free-agent tryouts or caught the eye of Vikings’ scouts.
“I had a great strength coach (at Minnesota State), but when I was able to work more with just one trainer and understand my deficiencies, I was able to become faster and more explosive,” Thielen said.
Last week, the Vikings drafted two receivers, including first-rounder Justin Jefferson, and signed another as a free agent, to offset the loss of Stefon Diggs, who was traded in Buffalo. The receiving corps will be inexperienced.
Thielen has been helping the young receivers learn the playbook, through online chats or video calls. He’s relishing the opportunity to prepare for the season, should it be allowed, because in-person coaching still isn’t allowed.
“We might be learning even more,” he said. “It’s all we can do right now. We can watch the film and talk about it and apply it once we get on the field.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.