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Fans' Passion Fuels Vikings Players' Drive at Night Practice

MANKATO, Minn. —A capacity crowd turned out and turned up for the Vikings final scheduled night practice at Minnesota State University, Mankato on Saturday.

The more than 10,500 who attended the evening session saluted 22 Vikings Legends, including 2017 Ring of Honor inductee Ahmad Rashad, before welcoming current players at Blakeslee Stadium.

Rashad said training camp is "where it all starts" for every football team.

"Training camp is about the fans, the community, about becoming one," Rashad said. "Here, it's about us solidifying that we run the North."

Rashad credited former Vikings Offensive Coordinator/Head Coach and Ring of Honor member Jerry Burns as "one of the greatest coaches" in the game and for instilling in players to "appreciate the fans that came out to watch us practice every day during training camp."

Current Vikings receiver Adam Thielen is no stranger to "The Blake." After starring collegiately for the Mavericks, this year marked the 10th in a row in which he has prepared for a season in Mankato. Thielen, no surprise, was covered with grass stains from shoulder pads to the bottom of his pants legs.

The ball didn't come his way for one last signature play, but he — and the crowd — did enjoy seeing touchdowns of 50-plus yards to Jarius Wright and Stefon Diggs.

View images from Saturday's Verizon Vikings Training Camp night practice at Minnesota State Mankato.

"I'm just trying to do my job," Thielen said to a scrum of reporters after the game. "You want big plays as a receiver, but sometimes they don't come your way. That's all right."

He liked the competitive nature of the practice that wasn't structured as a scrimmage but had plenty of action.

"It's kind of nice because it's a little more than practice and not quite a preseason game, so it kind of gets us ready for that first preseason game and gets those competitive juices flowing again," Thielen said. "It's great. It feels awesome."

Safety Harrison Smith said the practice is a "good simulation of what you're going to see in the preseason." 

"You know, make it a little bit game-like and see how guys play kind of under the lights," said Smith, who noted that the defense has learned to feed off the cheers that are usually directed toward an offensive player who wins a play.

"Everyone always gets up for this practice," Smith said. "You can say it's practice, but the way that the fans show up and the way they cheer and everything – they always cheer for the offense, first of all, so it definitely gets us a little juiced on the defense side."

Fans were sure to welcome Linval Joseph, who became the third Pro Bowl Vikings defender to sign a contract extension this camp. Joseph inked his deal a couple hours before practice, joining Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes in extending their years in Purple.

"Our fans are great," Joseph said. "From year one to year four – being in the cold, going inside a new stadium, good, bad, we have real fans here. And I like that."

Rookies also soaked up the atmosphere.

"It was great to see the fans come out here for my first time," first-year tight end Bucky Hodges said. "It was a lot of energy and excitement. These fans were going crazy."

All told, more than 14,000 people attended Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Saturday, participating in an array of activities in the Vikings Village interactive space and youth football clinics.

The Vikings organization paid tribute to university and city officials on the field before practice to sincerely express gratitude for an incredibly successful partnership, presenting Mankato 52 Vikings jerseys on the field.

"I'd like to thank the fans for all of the years of support," Owner/Vice Chairman Lenny Wilf said.

The 2017 Vikings are the fourth squad that Head Coach Mike Zimmer has brought to Mankato to prepare for a season, and he has appreciated the experience.

"Thank you to Mankato for 52 great years," Zimmer said. "The Vikings fans are the best, most-knowledgeable fans not only in the NFL but in the world.

"This team has been working very hard the last couple of weeks and through [its offseason program]," Zimmer added. "We're excited to start the season, Monday night, September 11 against the New Orleans Saints. We want U.S. Bank Stadium to be the loudest, most raucous stadium in the NFL."

Players autographed souvenir footballs and flung them to fans in the stands before a robust fireworks show wrapped the evening.

Minnesota has two more practices (Monday and Tuesday) before opening its preseason slate at Buffalo on Aug. 10.

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