MANKATO, Minn. –Former Golden Gopher Troy Stoudermire is back on a Minnesota football field.
"I never would have thought I'd end up playing for the Gophers and the Vikings, so it's been awesome," Stoudermire said following Monday's training camp practice. "These fans are great out here in Minnesota."
Stoudermire played cornerback, wide receiver and on special teams as a returner while at the University of Minnesota. The Vikings are utilizing him in the latter two roles after signing him as a free agent in May.
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer liked what he saw from Stoudermire over the past several years.
"I knew when Troy was coming in that he was already talented," Priefer said. "That there was a good skill set there that we could work with, that he was mature enough to understand what his job was and what he needed to do as a returner."
Stoudermire set the NCAA FBS record for career kickoff return yards (3,615), averaging 25.1 on 144 returns at Minnesota (2008-12) and set school single-season records for kickoff returns (43 in 2009) and yards (1,083 in 2008). After a brief stint in Cincinnati to start his NFL career in 2013, Stoudermire spent time in the Canadian Football League. Most recently with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, he led the CFL with 171 yards per game (1,192 in seven games). In 2015, Stoudermire averaged 20.5 yards on kickoff returns and 10.1 on punt returns.
Priefer said Stoudermire possesses quickness, good vision and the ability to "make that first man miss," which is integral for a strong NFL punt returner.
"I like to see these young guys come in," Priefer said. "He's still young, but he's not a rookie. I have a lot of respect for those guys that have paid their dues, that have played in either the CFL or NFL.
"The bottom line is, I want to make sure they're taught the way I need them taught and that we want them taught here with the Minnesota Vikings," Priefer continued. "We think we do it a little bit different than other teams. The way we teach tracking the ball and catching the ball, not that it's rocket science, but there's a way that we do it here."
Stoudermire said he appreciates the way Priefer treats him as an experienced player. The wide receiver is focusing on soaking up everything he can from Priefer as well as from teammates who have spent some time with the Vikings.
"Guys at [the wide receiver] position like Jarius [Wright], Stefon Diggs and [Charles Johnson] – just catching on and learning the playbook […] just trying to get acquainted, so that when it's my turn to get in there, it can flow smoothly," Stoudermire said. "I've also been learning from Marcus Sherels and watching him do his thing [as a returner] and critiquing those little things that Coach Priefer has talked to me about."
Priefer said Stoudermire's experience in the CFL benefitted him in making the transition back to the NFL. Although the level of performance isn't quite equal between the two leagues, the CFL offers an atmosphere, speed and level of competition more comparable than college to the NFL.
"I think the experience he had with not only tracking the ball, catching the ball, setting up those returns, ball security, all those things come into account," Priefer said. "He's ahead of the younger guys, the rookies so to speak, because he has that experience."
Ball security is high on the list of things Stoudermire prides himself on – whether on offense or special teams. While the Gopher alum hopes to contribute as a wide receiver in addition to the latter, he embraces the importance of special teams to an organization's success, and he takes his role within the unit seriously.
View images from the Thursday, August 4 practice at Verizon Vikings Training Camp.
"I don't give the ball away to the defense," Stoudermire said. "I take good care of the ball, and I just make plays.
"That's what it comes down to on special teams," he added. "You just have to make a play, and when my team needs it, I'll always come through and make that play."
Priefer appreciates the confidence level – "it's not cockiness" – that Stoudemire exudes on the field and said that it will benefit him during a game.
"He got experience, and because of that experience, he has confidence," Priefer said. "And because of that confidence, he's going to go out there, and the stage won't be too big for him […]. He takes his craft very seriously, and I like working with him. It's going to be fun to see him return the ball."