EAGAN, Minn. — When the Vikings and Saints kick off on Christmas Day, the nationally-televised game will be a homecoming for Justin Jefferson.
The Vikings star rookie wide receiver hails from St. Rose, Louisiana, and starred at Destrehan High School, roughly 20-minute drive from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
And while the Week 16 matchup will be Jefferson's first NFL game in the venue, he's played in it before. It was 346 days ago that Jefferson had nine catches for 106 yards to help LSU complete a perfect season with a 42-25 win over Clemson in the National Championship Game.
Yes, you can be sure that the 21-year-old is fired up for this one.
"I'm definitely excited to go back home and play in front of my family and friends," Jefferson said, "and to go back to the place that I won a national championship in."
Jefferson's excellent rookie season — he was named a Pro Bowler on Monday — has included eight home games, all of which have been played with no fans.
But the Saints will allow 3,000 fans on Friday, with a small chunk of that number allotted to family members of Vikings players.
Jefferson said as teammates have offered up their own tickets to ensure Jefferson has plenty of in-person support at the Superdome.
"I heard they have like 3,000 [fans], so everybody has been coming to me asking if I need their tickets," Jefferson said. "Everybody has been looking out for me with the tickets."
Jefferson said he was still trying to figure out the final tally.
"It's definitely double digits," Jefferson said. "It's double digits, but I'm not sure exactly how many I need."
As Jefferson heads home, he'll look to continue a rookie campaign that few others in Vikings history — or the NFL, for that matter — can match.
He has 73 receptions, which is a Vikings rookie record. He also has 1,182 receiving yards and trails Randy Moss by 131 yards for that franchise rookie record with two games to go.
Jefferson, who also has seven scores, is also within reach of Anquan Boldin's all-time NFL rookie record of 1,377 yards, which was set in 2003.
Jefferson reflected on being just the third Vikings rookie wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl. Moss (1998) and Sammy White (1976) were the others. Percy Harvin also made it in 2009 but did so as a return specialist.
"It's definitely a big honor. I'm so happy that I'm honored to be on that list up with the top guys in the NFL," Jefferson said. "I'm just ready to keep going. This is only my first year.
"So many things to improve on, so many things to work on," Jefferson added. "Definitely a bright start and looking now to finish my career and keep getting them."
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak and wide receiver Adam Thielen, as they've done numerous times this season, also praised Jefferson's adaptability in his first season in the league.
"All he's done is grow and get better as a player. He's extremely confident," Kubiak said. "I'll just tell you guys again, that to me, the thing that's separated him is his football IQ.
"He's got an exceptional football IQ, whether it's running routes, scheme, what you're trying to do, leverage," Kubiak added. "All those things that maybe it takes guys some time to catch up, he's way ahead."
Thielen added: "His ability to make big plays not only within games time after time, but further than that, game after game after game. That's what stuck out to me the most. Some guys can come out and they can show how good they are, they can have flashes of being really great, but he's been so consistent in making big plays in big moments of pretty much every game throughout the season. Extremely proud of him. Such a great locker room guy, such a great teammate. So fun to be in the receivers room with him, to see him develop his personality and see who he is off the field. Couldn't be more proud and excited for him to be recognized as one of the best in the league [as a Pro Bowler]."
Jefferson will be facing a team that one of his older brothers, Rickey, spent time with during the 2018 offseason as a defensive back.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was asked this week when he became aware of Justin's prowess which included an LSU-record 111 receptions in 2019 when he worked mostly from the slot.
"There's a real strong history with the family, so when you're here, you get an appreciation for that team last year when you start looking at the running back, the receivers, the quarterback," Payton said. "So we feel like we had a really good evaluation — a great evaluation. He played predominantly in LSU's offense inside, and obviously there's so many more things he can do. Both he and Adam are a handful, and they're both having great years."
View photos of the Vikings preparing to take on the Saints for Week 16 during practice at TCO Performance Center.
Through 14 games, Jefferson has already established himself as one of the league's top wide receivers, let alone as one of the game's best rookies.
But if he can put together another impressive performance in his home state, and help deliver another Vikings win in the Superdome, that would make extra already spectacular rookie season even better.
"Definitely excited about going there and playing the Saints," Jefferson added. "We're looking to get this 'dub,' so we've gotta come prepared and ready to go."