28-year-old Vikings player who paid $250 to try out for the NFL has become one of the best receivers in the league

Meredith Cash
Adam Thielen

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  • Minnesota Vikings reigning Pro Bowler Adam Thielen has posted one of the most prolific starts to an NFL season in recent memory and has become one of the best wide receivers in the league.
  • After barely securing a $500 scholarship to play football in college, Thielen paid $250 to attend an NFL regional combine following his senior season and caught the attention of the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers.
  • The 28-year-old's hometown Vikings got involved a bit later, and he hustled to slowly but surely earn his spot on the roster.
  • In 2014 and 2015, Thielen had a combined 281 receiving yards and one touchdown. Six games into this season, he has already caught 58 passes for 712 yards and four touchdowns.


Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and reigning Pro Bowler Adam Thielen currently leads the NFL with 58 catches on the season and is on pace to break the league's single-season receptions record. But just a few years back, Thielen was begging for a chance to break into the pros.

In an article published October 18, The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore details Thielen's journey from a lanky six-foot, 160-pound high schooler who dreamed of a football career in Canada or Germany to the 28-year-old sensation who has posted one of the most prolific starts to an NFL season in recent memory.

Thielen played football, basketball, and baseball throughout his high school years in Northern Minnesota, and although his athletic talent was on full display every time he played, his gawky stature and slowness on the field prevented him from receiving many offers to play in college. After impressing at a Minnesota high-school All-Star game, Thielen was offered a $500 scholarship to play for Minnesota State — a Division II school.

Thielen shined in his four years playing for the Mavericks, but he failed to secure a pro day spot after his senior season. Instead, he trained for weeks leading up to the NFL regional combine in Chicago — essentially a glorified open-call for anyone with $250 to spare — and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash. It was enough to get him through to a bigger combine in Texas, where he caught the attention of the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers.

"If he goes to that combine and runs a 4.5, you never hear about Adam Thielen," Thielen's high school assistant coach Rob Nielsen told Kilgore. "That's really the only thing that got him his shot."

Thielen's hometown Vikings got involved a bit later, and he hustled to slowly but surely earn his spot on the roster. In 2014 and 2015, he had a combined 20 catches, for 281 receiving yards and one touchdown. Through the first six games of this season alone, Thielen is on pace for 154 catches, 1,900 yards receiving, and 11 TDs.

"I know he doesn’t think there’s a ball he can't catch, for sure," Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer told reporters this week. "That's how he is in practice every day. He laid out in practice the other day and goes, 'Why did I do that?' He comes over and talks to me during games about stuff that's going on and it's always about, 'These guys can't guard me.'"

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