(used w/permission)

I’m a fan of underdog stories.

I’m a fan of hometown heroes.

I’m a fan of hard workers.

I’m a fan of good athletes.

Third-year wide receiver Adam Thielen fits all of the above in my book. I was intrigued by Thielen when the Vikings signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2013, but I really didn’t know that much about him. That year he didn’t make the final cut, but Minnesota signed him to the practice squad. From there, he’s slowly but surely worked his way onto the radar.

I attended training camp in August 2014, and I liked what I saw from Thielen. After interviewing him after a practice, I wrote a feature on the receiver for VT. The following is an excerpt from last year’s post:

Thielen entered his second year ready to make an impression, and he certainly has. His explosiveness, agility and reception accuracy spoke for itself on the practice field, but the receiver stepped onto TCF Field and proved he is ready for the real stuff.

That spotlight came after special teams coach Mike Priefer utilized Thielen on three punt returns in the Vikings’ first 2014 preseason game.

Thielen solidified himself as an important, albeit non-starting, player on the Vikings roster last season. This year, he once again looks to make the final 53-man roster and continue increasing his role on the team.

“He did a great job for us last year, and we’re going to rely on him more this year,” Priefer said last week.

Although his spot is not guaranteed, it seems likely that No. 19 will hold his place.

The Vikings released their first unofficial depth chart August 4, and Thielen was penciled in behind Charles Johnson at the second WR position. That being said, the Vikings have quite a few receivers vying for slots, including Johnson, veteran Mike Wallace, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and rookie Stefon Diggs—who is already standing out.

The Mankato State University alum is continuing to leave impressions on both his teammates and his coaches, however.

On August 6, offensive coordinator Norv Turner talked about Thielen’s speed.

“[Adam has] outstanding speed, and he plays extremely fast,” Turner said. “He’s really become an outstanding route runner, and he runs every route full speed.”

Last week, Thielen said he “had a lot to prove.” On Sunday, he took the first steps to do just do that.

The young receiver again made a mark in the first preseason game of the season. Although he didn’t come up with any flashy, highlight-reel plays, he played well against Pittsburgh. Thielen made two third-down receptions, one of which led to rookie MyCole Pruitt’s touchdown, and he also fielded a punt. During the game, play-by-play Vikings announcer Paul Allen called Thielen “the Vikings Swiss army knife.”

There’s no doubt about it; Thielen has come a long way.

A native of Detroit Lakes, the receiver earned All-conference and All-state honors during his senior season of high school. He then stayed in Minnesota to attend Minnesota State University – Mankato. Thielen redshirted the 2008 season and recorded one touchdown in 2009. As a sophomore, he increased his production by grabbing 686 yards and six touchdowns. His final two years with the Mavericks, Thielen became the team’s starting kick and punt returner. He finished the 2012 season with 1,176 yards off 74 receptions and added eight touchdowns.

Thielen had a solid college career, that much is true. But he also didn’t attend a large market school. Only a handful of Mavericks’ alumni have made it to the NFL; out of those, even fewer lasted more than a season or two. But Thielen isn’t one to let statistics stop him.

Ask most any one who knows football, and he or she will tell you that, whether he ever earns a starting spot or not, Thielen is one of the hardest workers out there.

“You make yourself tougher in the offseason,” Thielen said. “You constantly have to grind, work harder than anyone else.”

During the 2015 offseason, Thielen trained with veteran Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, also from Minnesota, holds annual workout sessions at the U of M. This summer, Thielen lined up to learn from the Cardinals wide receiver. According to ESPN’s Ben Goessling, the Fitzgerald talked with Thielen throughout the day and offered both insight and advice.

“Any time you have an opportunity to be around a guy that works the way he does, you’ve got to take advantage of that,” said Thielen. “We talk[ed] a little bit about the [Vikings’] offense, and different offenses. He’s a knowledgeable guy, and he’s been around for a while. There’s a lot I’ve taken from him, just in little small talk.”

And while he may have a while to go before he reaches Fitzgerald-caliber, Thielen is turning heads just the same.

Wallace, who joined the Vikings from Miami during the offseason, said he didn’t know much about Minnesota’s receiving core when he first arrived. He’s learning quickly.

“Thielen is a really good football player, and he’s like your fifth or sixth guy,” Wallace said earlier this month. “That’s crazy. He can play.”

I think I echo Minnesota fans everywhere when I say, I hope we’re saying the same thing a few weeks from now.

What Vikings fans are saying about Adam Thielen: