Eric Decker's roots run deep in the North Star State.
He was born in Cold Spring, Minn., and dreamed of the NFL while watching Jake Reed, Cris Carter and Randy Moss tear up secondaries with the Vikings.
He attended Rocori High School in Cold Spring before matriculating at the University of Minnesota and becoming a first-team All-Big Ten selection.
Now, he returns home as a conquering hero, of sorts.
"For me, personally, it will mean a lot to go play in front of your home state," Decker said. "At the same time, this game is more important for us at a team. We're on a roll with a chance at playoff contention. So it means a lot for us."
Decker has emerged as the Denver Broncos No. 1 receiving option in the wake of Brandon Lloyd's trade to St. Louis. His eight receiving TDs are tied with New England's Wes Welker for the most in the AFC. Decker added a ninth score on a 90-yard punt return to rank in a tie for seventh overall among non-kickers with his 54 points.
Decker played as a rookie at the Metrodome in a preseason game. But that was only a glimpse of a player he would become.
At the time, Decker still was feeling the after-effects of a serious Lisfranc fracture that ended his college career, followed by a pair of high-ankle sprains suffered in his first training camp.
And while Decker was on the uptick as his rookie season closed, finishing with six catches and contributing on kickoff returns, he spent his offseason making sure he could make both that mental and physical jump to his current cusp of pro stardom.
Decker began his offseason with rehab at Denver's Dove Valley training facility to strengthen his foot. The process continued in Arizona, where he worked on getting in peak shape. He then joined a group of pros at a camp organized by Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in Minneapolis that, Decker said, "pushed him to the limit" with a slew of speed work and route running.
Decker then joined his Broncos teammates in sessions organized by Denver safety Brian Dawkins, preceding training camp.
"It starts with confidence -- confidence physically, knowing my foot is healed up and I had a good offseason to prepare for training camp. And it's helped mentally to know that you don't have to go out there and worry about your foot and whether it's going to give or not. I'm also more comfortable in the playbook, not thinking so much out there and just reacting. That's what football is."
Family and friends will be on hand to greet Decker when the Broncos take on the 2-9 Vikings in search of their fifth straight victory.
But as Decker looks around the stadium surroundings he may have some flashbacks, too. Decker was on hand in 1998 when Atlanta stunned Minnesota, 30-27, to reach the Super Bowl after Vikings kicker Gary Anderson missed his first field goal all season with 2:07 left in regulation, allowing Morten Andersen to kick the game-winner in overtime.
"It still haunts me to this day," Decker said with a smile.
Decker returns home healthy, productive
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