Rookie DT Stephen cautious with weight gain

Shamar Stephen made his mark in football at a basketball school, doing enough to earn himself a spot in the draft. Now it's up to him to mold his body enough to earn a full-time spot when the pay increases beyond a daily stipend.

Despite their best efforts, football players at certain colleges fall under the umbrella of being football players at "basketball schools." Ask anyone familiar with Duke, Kansas and Kentucky athletics: They know the football program is secondary.

In Storrs, Connecticut, it's more serious. Not only is the football program taking secondary status to the men's basketball program. They're third behind the women's hoops program.

For a football player at U-Conn, standing out takes something.

Shamar Stephen is looking to be one of those guys. Stephen is facing long odds as a seventh-round pick looking to make an NFL roster, but he stood out for a school in need of football standouts and is looking for somebody on the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff to have that "Wait…what?" moment while watching him.

Their first-round quarterback already knows it.

It's hard to miss Stephen. At 6-foot-5, 309 pounds, he casts an imposing shadow. But he has three-plus months to convince the Vikings coaching staff that he has what it takes to be the guy who bucks the late-round stigma.

"I'm just trying to be productive and show them I can play," Stephen said. "Right now, I'm just trying to master my fundamental technique – try to master the playbook and get after it.

At the moment, Stephen weighs in at a respectable 309 pounds. You don't want that coming at you with bad intentions. But head coach Mike Zimmer thinks Stephen can add 10 pounds of upper-body strength. Stephen is agreeable to the concept, but adding muscle to a 300-plus pound body comes with a caloric conundrum.

"I definitely could put on some weight, it's just whether it's good weight or bad weight," Stephen said. "I want to make it good weight, so I'm looking just to add muscle."

If he has someone in his corner, it's quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

They're teammates in 2014. Last year, he was an opponent trying to beat Stephen and his fellow Huskies.

As a quarterback in the business of self-preservation, he took notice of Stephen before the Vikings took particular notice of either of them.

"I just remember him always being the biggest guy on the field," Bridgewater said. "I remember we were playing him on a Friday night this past season, we tried to run a play and he blew up the entire play. So I just remember that, that stood out.

"He's just someone who is big, physical and tenacious," Bridgewater added. "He has a tenacious attitude. He's just someone who as time goes on will continue to get better."

During this past weekend, Stephen and Bridgewater stood on opposite sides of the football again. Bridgewater knows his job is safe for the foreseeable future. Stephen, not so much.

He knows he has to turn the right head at the right time to make the final Vikings roster. Having the respect of his new teammate/QB of the future is a plus, but Stephen knows he has to impress his coaches enough that UConn isn't necessarily a basketball school. He's out to show the football program puts out some quality athletes that will get themselves noticed by the right people.

"It's definitely a big thing," Stephen said. "I have to make an impression on everybody. I just want to show them I can play."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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