On the NFL Mark Craig

Here's a stat-of-the-week candidate, but think twice before sharing with Alex Boone, mammoth Vikings guard and proud alum of THE Ohio State University:

Sunday's Vikings-Jaguars game in Jacksonville will feature twice as many former Minnesota State University Mankato Mavericks (two) as former THE Ohio State University Buckeyes.

"Really?" said Adam Thielen, Vikings receiver and former Maverick. "I'll have to mention that to Alex. That's crazy."

And most likely unprecedented. Two former Mavericks active and playing in the same game "is unheard of," said Mavericks coach Todd Hoffner, who signed Thielen in 2008 and Jaguars starting left guard Chris Reed in 2010. Thielen and Reed are the only former Mavericks currently on active NFL rosters.

"They're our two bright and shining stars," Hoffner said. "I'll talk to recruits and I'll say, 'Remember the guy with the Vikings who had that great catch down the sideline?' They'll say, 'Yeah,' and I'll say, 'That's a Minnesota State guy.' And their eyes light up and they're like, 'Really?'"

Don't feel too badly, Buckeyes fans. The Division II Mavericks also will outnumber former Washington Huskies (2-0) and match the number of former Alabama Crimson Tide players in Sunday's game.

"I think we should be in the [college football] playoffs," Thielen joked. "But, seriously, this shows that it doesn't matter where you come from. If you have the talent and the drive and the work ethic, you can go a long ways."

MSU's current run of seven postseason appearances in 10 years started around the time Hoffner arrived in the summer of 2008 and struck D-II gold with a $500 scholarship offer to a kid from Detroit Lakes, Minn.

"We were transitioning from the NCC to the NSIC and had to cut scholarships from 36 to 24," Hoffner said. "I arrived in January and we had 12 days to sign a class, and we had no money. We had some conversations about Adam. The next thing you know, he signs for the $500 we call our Maverick scholarship. That's all we could afford."

Thielen accepted. Then again, he didn't have much else on the table.

"I really didn't know where I was going to go," Thielen said. "They called with 500 bucks, so that was it. I became a Maverick."

Two years later, Hoffner came across Reed, a two-sport star from Omaha. Reed had plenty of offers in track and football, but only MSU would allow him to continue doing both. He repaid that decision by becoming a star left tackle and an 11-time track and field All-America with two national shot put titles.

Thielen and Reed were starters together in 2011 and 2012, when the Mavericks went 13-1 en route to a regional championship. Thielen made the Vikings practice squad the following fall and has improved each season to become one of the team's most valued receivers. He's third in catches (54) and second in receiving yards (657) and touchdown catches (three).

"Going to a D-II school, I didn't have aspirations of being where I am today," Reed said. "So Adam was my hero. I wanted to follow him to the NFL. After I saw him do it, it gave me more confidence that I could do it because it's crazy that Adam was a D-II walk-on who just kept working, became our best receiver and then a starter in the NFL."

Like Thielen, Reed went undrafted even though, as Thielen put it, "Chris dominated that left side and no one had a chance of getting around him." The 6-5, 310-pounder spent his 2015 rookie season on Jacksonville's practice squad. Injuries have forced him into the starting lineup three times this season, including the past two games. He'll start at left guard Sunday against the Vikings.

"I'm the third guy to start at left guard this year," Reed said. "My wife [Anna] is from Rochester. She's a huge Vikings fan. She keeps track of them, and she's always telling me about all the injuries they've had on their offensive line."

Does this big Vikings fan know just how important Sunday's game against the 2-10 Jaguars is to the playoff hopes of the 6-6 Vikings?

"Yes," Reed said. "But she'll be rooting for us."

Meanwhile, Hoffner will be rooting for his two Mavericks.

"Everybody should epitomize how they do things," Hoffner said. "They're the poster children for our program and what I think all schools at any level should want in players who represent them."