EAGAN, Minn. – In college, Dan Chisena made a difficult decision and received full encouragement from his parents, Dave and Jody.
So when Chisena made the Vikings 53-man roster after Saturday's reductions, sharing the news with his parents was that much more rewarding.
"They were really happy. They support me so much and love me so much, and I'm super thankful for them," Chisena said.
The 23-year-old initially joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent – and a speedy one, at that.
Starting one's NFL career as an undrafted free agent is a steep hill to climb out of the gate. But combine that with a COVID-19 pandemic that drastically altered the offseason program and canceled all preseason games? It's fair to say the odds were stacked against Chisena.
But then again, this isn't the first time Chisena made an impression as the underdog.
Chisena joined Penn State's football team as a walk-on freshman and redshirted that 2015 season. He soon was forced to choose between track and football, though, when the Nittany Lions offered him a track scholarship – which would be nullified if he played both sports.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
Chisena stepped away from football and ran track for two seasons. But he couldn't shake how much he missed the gridiron.
So in 2018, he approached Penn State Head Coach James Franklin about re-joining the team and was "welcomed back with open arms." By donning a football jersey again, though, Chisena effectively walked away from his scholarship.
His parents never questioned that decision.
"They were the ones who initially sacrificed for me to walk-on in the first place," Chisena said. "And then I had a track scholarship, and talking to them about wanting to play football again … it wasn't even a second thought for them. They just wanted me to chase my dream and go after it."
Chisena's time in Minnesota thus far has been brief but already a bit of a roller coaster. After joining the Vikings as a receiver and spending the majority of the offseason there, coaches asked Chisena to switch positions – and jersey numbers – and try his hand at defensive back.
The last time he played defense?
"Probably middle school," he laughed.
"They initially told me they were going to move me to safety. But then I ended up practicing at corner for those three days because safeties make a lot of calls and stuff and they just wanted to get me out there and let me play," he explained.
As noted above, the experiment was short-lived.
It did, however, demonstrate to the Vikings coaching staff that Chisena is ready and willing to contribute in whatever way possible.
Chisena is one of seven receivers currently on Minnesota's roster, and it's clear that his main role will be on special teams, which he is leaning into whole-heartedly.
"Special teams is something that even back in college was really important to me and something I took a lot of pride in," he said. "I just tried to bring that here and take the same approach. I love it. It's a big phase of the game, and you can make an impact there. So I just tried to embrace that and put as much into that as I was into offense."
Chisena isn't a returner, but he'll be able to use his speed as a gunner on punt team, a role he also played at Penn State.
"I've felt comfortable with it in the past, and I'm just trying to use the techniques [Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf] has been teaching me," Chisena said. "It's a position where you just kind of get to play with your hair on fire, scream down there and try to contain the returner.
"I've really enjoyed that role, and if I end up playing it this weekend and moving forward, I'll embrace it and try to do that for the team," he added.
Reflecting back over his first NFL training camp, Chisena said it was a "fun" experience he didn't take for granted. With the Vikings set to open their season against the Packers Sunday, he hopes to make the most of the chance he's been given.
"I was super appreciative just to have the opportunity. My mentality was just to take it one day at a time and do everything to the best of my ability, work hard," Chisena said. "Whatever was out of my control, 'Don't worry about that.' Just focus on what my job was.
"Saturday came around, and I was blessed enough that the coaches believed in me to make the 53," he added.