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The NFL was Plan A for Zylstra, the former Cobbers receiver never had a Plan B

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Zylstra catches a pass during training camp practice at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minn. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press1 / 2
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Zylstra catches a pass during warm ups before the start of an NFL preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press2 / 2

EAGAN, Minn. — Former Concordia wide receiver Brandon Zylstra had a single focus the past few years with no fallback: NFL or bust.

That mindset was by design with no exit strategy.

"If you have a backup plan, you're not putting all your energy into Plan A," Zylstra said. "I never even thought of a Plan B."

That philosophy worked for Zylstra, who made the Vikings 53-man roster, heading into Sunday's season-opening game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Zylstra is listed behind starter Stefon Diggs at one of the two wide receiver spots on the Minnesota depth chart.

"You can't exhale," said Zylstra, who is from Spicer, Minn. "This is where the real work really starts."

Zylstra, 25, played three seasons for the NCAA Division III Cobbers, a wide receiver in a run-heavy, triple-option offense. In 29 games, he caught 120 passes for 1,932 yards and 18 touchdowns for Concordia. He then played two season in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos before earning a spot with the Vikings this season.

"I think it's incredibly amazing," Cobbers head coach Terry Horan said. "He deserves anything that he's getting right now. I'm so proud of him and happy for what he's accomplished."

Zylstra found out last Saturday that he made the 53-man roster. He said his parents, Vonn and Marcia, ended up being the first people he told the big news via FaceTime.

Although, Zylstra first reached out to his brothers and a few friends.

"I had five or six people not answer," Zylstra said with a laugh. "(My parents) ended up knowing first. ... They thought it was funny."

Marcia Zylstra said she heard Brandon use the "no Plan B" mantra many times over the past couple years after his college career for the Cobbers concluded.

"He worked hard and he proved himself up in Canada," Marcia said. "He would talk about how other people, they have Plan B, C and D, but I don't believe in that. ... That's exactly what it was, it was the drive to succeed and realize his dreams."

Zylstra missed the Vikings' first two preseason games with a hamstring injury and saw limited action in the team's third preseason game. He had four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings' fourth and final preseason game at Tennessee.

Zylstra said having to sit out those first two preseason games was difficult.

"I just knew it's going to be hard for them to keep me if I can't show what I can actually do out there," Zylstra said. "You can only control so much. ... I told myself you have to make the most of your opportunity when it comes."

Zylstra also expects to play special teams for the Vikings, along with his role as a backup receiver. While making the NFL has been a dream for Zylstra since his childhood, it's something he can't think about right now.

"I tell myself that this is just your job," Zylstra said. "This is what I wanted to do. ... I try not to let emotions get the most of me."

The Vikings played their final preseason game was Thursday, Aug. 30, at Tennessee, the same night Shane Zylstra, Brandon's younger brother, was playing in his season opener for Division II Minnesota State-Mankato. Marcia and Vonn were at that game in Mankato.

Shane had three catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in the Mavericks' 49-13 victory against Southwest Minnesota State.

Since the Mankato game started at 6 p.m. (an hour before the Vikings game was scheduled to start), Marcia and Vonn were in Blakeslee Stadium to watch Shane. Once the Vikings game started, the two went to their vehicle and had the window down so they could listen to the stadium public address for Shane's game, while listening to the Vikings game on the radio.

After the Mankato game, Marcia and Vonn went back into the stadium to talk with Shane after the game. They missed hearing Brandon's touchdown call live on the radio.

"We missed it because Shane got engaged that night," said Marcia, who has four sons. "It was just unbelievable."

Marcia said she plans to be at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday with Vonn and their youngest son, Jade, who is 15 years old.

Brandon Zylstra, who high jumped 6 feet, 10 3/4 inches for the Cobbers track team, is the sixth former Concordia football player to make the NFL.

"I always told myself I'm not going to let anybody tell me no," Brandon said. "I've been told I'm stubborn."

Cobbers in the NFL

Brandon Zylstra, Vikings (current)

Jim Christopherson, Vikings (1962)

Gary Larsen, Rams, Vikings (1964-74)

Kim Bokamper, Dolphins (1977-85)

Barry Bennett, Saints, Jets, Vikings (1978-88)

Dave Klug, Chiefs (1981-83)

Eric Peterson
Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.

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