MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Tyler Thigpen missed out on the glamorous life many college quarterbacks lead.
When he arrived at Division I-AA Coastal Carolina in 2002, Thigpen was coming to a school that had never fielded a football team.
The Chanticleers did not play a game until 2003, shared a locker room with the soccer and track teams and practiced anywhere they could - from driving ranges to tennis courts.
``Every day I would look at one of my teammates and we would ask one another, 'What are we doing?''' Thigpen said with a chuckle.
He may not have realized it at the time, but Thigpen was taking his first steps toward the NFL. Five years after becoming one of the first football players recruited to Coastal Carolina, Thigpen was taken in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings in last weekend's NFL Draft.
By the time Thigpen became a senior at Fairfield Central High School in South Carolina, he had all but given up on a future in football. After being moved from quarterback to wingback, he assumed his playing days would end upon graduation.
``I didn't even think in my senior year of high school that I would play college ball, let alone come to the NFL,'' Thigpen said. ``It's all been a dream come true.''
In the end, CCU coach David Bennett said the position change may have been the best thing to happen to Thigpen - and Coastal Carolina.
A highly regarded coach at Division II Catawba, Bennett was tabbed by Coastal, a school of about 6,700 undergrads just a stone's throw from Myrtle Beach, to build a football program from the ground up.
``When you're starting from scratch, you're not going to get the guy that everyone wants,'' Bennett said. ``I thank the Lord that Tyler was moved to wingback because we wouldn't have had a chance to recruit him otherwise.''
Coastal was the only school to offer Thigpen a chance to play quarterback, making his decision easy.
Just like baking a pie from scratch, things were messy at first.
Bennett spread the 13 scholarships he had across 17 players, then relied on walk-ons to fill out his first team. There were no games the first season. Just practice. Lots and lots of practice.
``If it would rain, we'd practice on the tennis courts,'' Thigpen said. ``Sometimes we'd practice on the band's practice field, which was full of anthills and not much else. ... You had nothing to look forward to. The only thing we had to look forward to on the weekend was watching other colleges play football.''
The games began in 2003, and Thigpen didn't throw a touchdown pass until the ninth game. He averaged just over 1,100 yards passing a year his first three seasons and didn't complete more than 50 percent of his passes until his junior year.
``That's because we had to run the ball all the time to keep the dadgum clock moving,'' Bennett said.
The Chants surprisingly won 16 games in their first two seasons, and their quarterback was living it up.
``I just looked at me as a college student at the beach, playing football,'' Thigpen said. ``I didn't really take anything too seriously.''
Sadly, Thigpen's world had to crumble before changes could be made.
He grew up in a close-knit family, with a tough, but loving, mother watching over the clan.
``When I would get into wrestling matches as a kid, she was the one I was always wrestling, not my dad,'' Thigpen said.
Harriett Thigpen could handle little Tyler. But ovarian cancer proved to be too much. She died in May 2004, just as Tyler was looking ahead to his third season.
``That was definitely tough on me,'' he said. ``It gives you a reality check.''
Said Bennett: ``When his mother passed away, you could see a difference in him. He got more serious about his football and his academics. It was neat to watch it unfold.''
With a new focus and determination, Thigpen blossomed. He completed 54 percent of his passes his junior season, and Bennett brought in Thigpen's high school coach as co-offensive coordinator before his senior season.
That's when the coach sat the quarterback down for a chat.
``He told me that if I really took this year seriously, I had a chance to go to the NFL,'' Thigpen said.
Thigpen threw for 3,296 yards, 29 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions, and rushed for another 780 yards and five scores. He was named the Big South Conference Player of the Year after not even making All Conference his first three seasons.
``It all came together,'' Bennett said. ``Kind of like a nice little ending to a story.''
Turns out, that was just the beginning.
At a workout in front of pro scouts, Thigpen showcased his mobility and arm strength - standing flat-footed, he launched a pass 67 yards.
The Vikings took notice. They drafted him with the 217th pick in the 255-pick draft, and Thigpen likely will compete with Drew Henson for the No. 3 job.
``I'm not going to say he's explosive, but he has an explosive arm,'' Vikings coach Brad Childress said. ``I like him as well as anybody. They haven't played football a long time down there, but he can throw the football and he can move around and create plays with his feet as well.''
It will be an interesting competition between Henson - the one-time Boy Wonder from mighty Michigan who left school to sign a multimillion dollar deal with the New York Yankees - and Thigpen, the unknown kid from the middle of nowhere.
``He's a good ol' country boy,'' Bennett said. ``I don't know what the future holds for him, but I know he's got the talent. Y'all will love him up there.''

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