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Justin Jefferson: From Undersized Kid to Supersized Vikings Extension

EAGAN, Minn. – It's hard to imagine a time when Justin Jefferson wasn't fast enough, big enough or good enough.

But standing at the podium Tuesday, now the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history, Jefferson certainly hasn't forgotten.

The Vikings receiver smiled widely and often as he spoke with Twin Cities media members a day after agreeing to an extension that will keep him in Minnesota through the 2028 season.

"I was very small," Jefferson recalled, acknowledging he hadn't been highly touted coming out of high school. "Not really that fast. Not explosive, like I am now. I definitely had times where I complained [to] my parents for not being the biggest, not being the strongest. 'What am I gonna do?' Just things a little kid thinks about when he's growing into his body."

John and Elaine Jefferson, who sat nearby with one of Jefferson's older brothers, Jordan, chuckled and nodded along with the memory.

"I really had to be patient about that," Jefferson said. "Seeing what [Jordan] went through, hearing the different stories that my parents were telling me – that he had to go through the same things I was going through.

"So it was just about being patient, all about staying the course and working my butt off," he added.

It's a work ethic that's helped carry Jefferson to where he is now as arguably the NFL's top wide receiver.

And it continues to show up on and off the field, as pointed out by Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

Adofo-Mensah pointed to last season's Week 16 matchup against the Lions, during which the Vikings were attempting a comeback in the game's final two minutes. Most will remember Minnesota facing third-and-27 and Jefferson making a 28-yard, leaping grab while sandwiched between two defenders.

But it's actually the previous play that stands out most to Adofo-Mensah.

Vikings QB Nick Mullens had been sacked for a 12-yard loss and fumbled the football, which squibbled away deeper into Minnesota territory. As linemen began a chase of the ball, Jefferson came racing back along the sideline and didn't hesitate to dive headfirst into the cluster, recovering the fumble and keeping the Vikings drive alive.

"A lot of players, a lot of people, talk about 'winning' and what that means – and that's lip service. But when you go out on the field and show it in that way, that's something I'll always remember," Adofo-Mensah said, looking at Jefferson. "I think I told you after the game, you know, 'Hopefully I'm there when the Gold Jacket gets fit.' But that's the one I'll tell my kids I got to see when I was around.

"Ultimately when you have moments like that in your mind, and you know how he contributes to our culture – the joy and the positivity, all that – this day was going to come," Adofo-Mensah added. "There was never a second in my mind that we weren't going to be here. You obviously have to navigate challenges and things like that, but this was always our purpose. I'm really glad to be here on this day to celebrate this occasion."

Tuesday felt like a bit of a full-circle moment for Jefferson, who began his NFL journey at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and was drafted 22nd overall during a virtual draft.

Now having loved ones in the room to celebrate the biggest moment of his career – thus far – means the world to Jefferson.

"Shout out to the Lord, to God. Without Him, this definitely wouldn't be possible at all," Jefferson said to open his press conference. "Of course, shout out to my parents. Shout out to Jordan, shout out to Rickey and shout out to all of my family members. I have a great support system in every single thing that I do – from the time I was a little kid 'til now, being in the league and playing professionally. They've been here every step of the way. I could not ask for better family members."

WR Justin Jefferson and family
WR Justin Jefferson and family

Jefferson also sincerely thanked the Wilf family, as well as Adofo-Mensah, Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and many others.

"This is something I've been waiting for, for a long, long time," he said. "Not only just a [personal] money standpoint, but just getting my family up for future generations. […] I mean, just to be given this opportunity to be playing at the highest level, to have a contract that will set me up for life and just to be playing for this organization."

Jefferson reiterated what Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell had said, that the plan always was to keep No. 18 in a Vikings jersey.

"I love every single thing about [this organization]," he said. "From the fan base, to the coaches, to the teammates, to the owners that support us. Everything has been phenomenal."

Jefferson has received heartfelt congratulations and positive reactions from teammates, including tight end T.J. Hockenson, who welcomed the receiver back to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Monday afternoon with excitement and an embrace.

O'Connell said Jefferson "means the world" to Minnesota's locker room.

"Seeing him today back around his teammates, yesterday back around his teammates – he's a people changer," O'Connell said. "He's a culture changer. And he's everything [that] we want this organization to be about."

Being a leader for his peers is a responsibility Jefferson doesn't take lightly. He's already demonstrated those qualities over the past four seasons, but he told media members he plans to "carry myself a different way" from this point forward.

"Just like I told [O'Connell], I'm going to be on everyone," he said. "I'm going to be on everyone hard, and I'm going to make sure I'm the leader of this team and we're working to where we want to go – which is a world championship."

O'Connell is dedicated to pursuing that goal alongside Jefferson.

"Justin, I know [adversity you've faced] is only going to make you stronger as we continue to build together, and with that 'together,' we'll continue to bring out the best in each other," O'Connell told the receiver. "In addition to all the individual feats you've been able to accomplish, the joy I've had coaching you, I know we're still chasing a championship together.

"With your lead, I look forward to watch you continue to grow into a leader on this team and set the standard at a world-class level for the rest of your teammates and coaches," O'Connell added.

View the best photos of Vikings WR Justin Jefferson's time with the Vikings from 2020-23.

Though Jefferson wasn't always big enough to play in the NFL, the spotlight has never been too big for him.

Wearing a purple Who Decides War hoodie and gray shorts, Jefferson leaned casually into the podium and maintained the relaxed, confident demeanor he's exuded since day one.

"I've been saying this since I was pretty much 8, 9 years old," he said of the NFL dream. "I mean, having two brothers that came before me, I got to really see everything before I could even touch a football. So just having older brothers to really teach me everything that I needed – from getting stronger, doing pushups at 3 years old, to actually being able to throw and catch a football.

"That dream's always been there for me. That vision's always been there for me," Jefferson continued. "I was always a big dreamer and always a person to overcome different things and try to be the best person, or best kid, that I could be. Now to have all of those things installed in my brain – [my brothers] teaching me how to become a better person, a better man, to them teaching me how to become a better player on the field. There there's definitely many things that went into me being this type of player."