MANKATO, Minn. –For 10 years now, Adam Thielen has been a recognizable face at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
From the summer before his redshirt season with the Mavericks until now, training camp in preparation for his fifth season in Vikings Purple, the receiver has established himself as a hometown hero. No. 19 jerseys speckle the crowd, and Thielen's name can be heard called by autograph-seeking fans.
Thielen brought a smile to the face of retired Army Colonel Milt Toratti, who said that he's been in the receiver's corner "since day one," after reporting for camp Wednesday. After Thielen's first walk-through practice of 2017 on Thursday morning, he stopped to visit with fans and sign autographs, cheerfully wishing a "Happy Birthday" to one young fan holding a handmade sign.
"I love seeing the people that have watched me throughout college and now through the NFL," Thielen told media members. "It's fun to see those people come out and say, 'Hey, I saw your games in college.' That's definitely exciting for me, and I'm going to take advantage of it."
Take a stroll through the college campus, and chances are high that you'll see Thielen's photo or name posted along the way.
It's something his teammates have a little fun with.
Jarius Wright, a teammate of Thielen's since the Detroit Lakes native signed with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2013, said there's plenty of ribbing among receivers when they return to Thielen's old stomping grounds.
View images of the second-wave of players that reported to training camp on Wednesday morning.
"I'm real good friends with Adam, and I mess with him all the time about being down here, and some of his posters are up there on the wall and things," Wright said with a smile. "It's funny just being down here and knowing that Adam went to school here. We give him a hard time about it all the time."
Fielding quips from teammates and being a fan favorite aren't anything new for Thielen, but he's likely to take in the atmosphere a little more, as the 2017 Verizon Vikings Training Camp marks the team's final summer session in Mankato. Next year, camp will be hosted at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan.
Thielen said he expects an even larger showing than usual of Vikings fans over the next two weeks.
"Even when I was going to college here, I think we maybe didn't take advantage of having the Vikings right here, being able to go out to practice every day," Thielen said. "I think people from the community will now take advantage of it, knowing that we're not going to be here anymore. It's such an easy opportunity to come and watch practice, which not a lot of people can do, watch a NFL practice. I think a lot of people will be coming out for that reason."
Training camp is readying to move locations, and Thielen's role has transitioned from a special teams contributor to one of Minnesota's key offensive weapons.
What hasn't changed, however, even in the wake of a new contract is Thielen's mindset heading into a new season.
"I just want to keep doing the things that got me here," Thielen said. "Every offseason I kind of have a goal to keep getting stronger, to keep getting faster, quicker, becoming a better all-around receiver, being able to block and being able to catch, and being reliable."
Added Thielen: "For me, it's just doing the same things and being consistent, and the more that I can be consistent, the more I can help this team win games."
Minnesota's 8-8 record in 2016 left the Vikings unsatisfied.
Now getting back onto the football field as a whole team and looking ahead to 2017, Thielen and his teammates have set high expectations for themselves.
"It doesn't really matter who you're playing, what week it is, how many wins you have at that point," Thielen explained. "You've got to play every game the same and prepare the same way every game."
"I think there's a lot of hungry players on this team, a lot of guys who have been here for a long time," Thielen said. "We want to win and we want to win now."