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'Exactly where I want to be right now': Zylstra makes his NFL debut in Vikings' win

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Zylstra (15) prior to the game against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Zylstra (15) prior to the game against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota kid in Brandon Zylstra peeked out the moment he stepped onto the turf.

From New London-Spicer High School in western Minnesota to Concordia College in Moorhead and the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, Zylstra was on the field for the opening kickoff of the 2018 NFL regular season for the Minnesota Vikings.

As the “Skol” chant rippled through US Bank Stadium, Zylstra was near the Viking logo at midfield, doing the overhead clap with the 66,673 fans in attendance.

“It was cool and I kept repeating to myself, ‘This is exactly what I want to do. This is exactly where I want to be right now,’ ” Zylstra said.

In Sunday’s 24-16 Vikings victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Zylstra’s time came exclusively on special teams, with his number 15 called on four punt returns and five kick returns.

“It’s definitely something I’m proud of but I’m never really satisfied,” Zylstra said. “I’m here, but now I have to make sure I stay here and contribute every week. As much as I would like to exhale and relax a little bit, you can’t really with this job.”

Still, that beats last weekend as Zylstra waited until 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, to find out he had made the 53-man roster.

“I kind of kept everything to myself for a little bit,” Zylstra said about the day he made the cut. “I wanted to wait until 3 o’clock hit so it was official. The first six people I called didn’t answer. Then I got my parents next and they answered, so at least they got to hear about it first and they were excited about that.”

Quickly after that, the calls came in from around Kandiyohi County and the Fargo/Moorhead area.

“I got a few,” Zylstra said after a chuckle. “My phone was buzzing off the hook a little bit. It took me a few days to even get back to some people and sometimes I didn’t get back to some guys. It’s been pretty overwhelming.”

If anyone can relate to Zylstra’s opportunity, it’s fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen, who went from Detroit Lakes to Minnesota State before becoming a Viking.

“I just try to be a soundboard for him,” Thielen said to reporters about Zylstra. “If he has any questions, if he has anything that he thinks he needs help with, I just want to make sure he knows I’m there. I’ve been down that road and played a lot of special teams in my day and felt like I had a little bit of success. He can play receiver at a high level so he probably doesn’t need to ask me questions about that. But playing special teams, it’s a little different when you really haven’t really played it.”

Though teammates like Thielen and CJ Ham (from Duluth and Augustana University) can relate to being a small-school player from Minnesota, Zylstra has the distinction of being the only player in purple and gold from a NCAA Division III college.

“It’s just cool (with) this organization that if you can play, they’re going to play you,” Zylstra said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or anything and that’s something I really respect from this organization.”

In Edmonton in 2017, Zylstra led the CFL with 1,687 receiving yards to go with 100 catches and five touchdowns. His role on the Vikings isn’t as glamorous, but he’s in the NFL. And he’ll be ready for whatever opportunity comes his way.

“(I’m) just being open to anything. Any time there’s any kind of special teams, even if I wasn’t on it, I was standing next to the coaches letting them know I’m available,” Zylstra said. “I’m here to do anything you guys ask me to. I honestly don’t care what it is; I just want to get in the game and earn the trust from the players and coaches that I can be a Swiss Army knife out here. I can be put wherever they need me.”