Walsh visits New Ulm

NEW ULM – The business of the NFL can be a cruel and unpredictable road between players and front office staff for their respective teams.

After going 3-13 in the 2011 season, the Minnesota Vikings were ready to go through a rebuilding process, which meant getting rid of some higher-priced veterans and replacing them with younger but unproven talent.

Vikings fans were surprised when the team selected University of Georgia kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round, because the team already had a proven kicker in Ryan Longwell.

Walsh struggled in his senior year at Georgia, hitting 21-of-35 (60 percent) of his field goals. The former Top 5 kicker on the ESPN high school rankings had a tough senior year, but the Vikings front office saw something in him and took the chance, releasing Longwell shortly after the draft.

“I knew about Ryan’s season and I knew about his career, he’s such a great kicker,” Walsh said. “When they drafted me and they released him, I knew I really had a chance to prove myself, it was a nice vote of confidence by them. It made me wanna work that much harder to prove them right.”

On Wednesday, Walsh was at the New Ulm Menards for the store’s Grand Opening celebration. He signed autographs from 6-8 p.m. and posed for pictures with fans. Menards will have a similar event tonight when Brad Radke visits the store and he will sign autographs from 6-8 p.m.

After being drafted in the sixth round by the Vikings, Walsh moved on and he set numerous NFL and Vikings records in the process. For Walsh, the change of scenery and a slight change in his mechanics made the big difference.

“After that season, my senior year, I was able to just put it behind me,” Walsh said. “I figured out the stuff I had to fix in my approach and my overall swing and I fixed it. I performed well at the combine and at my private workouts and my pro day and I just turned it into the season I had. I was surrounded by a bunch of great people.”

Walsh’s first season with the Vikings was indeed one for the record books. He set a team rookie record for most points in a season (141), breaking the previous record held by Randy Moss (119 in 1998). He also holds the team record for most field goals of 50 yards or more in a season with 10, most field goals of 50 yards or more without missing in a season (10), highest field goal percentage by a rookie kicker (92 percent) and consecutive games with making a 50-plus yard field goal (3).

He holds the NFL record for most field goals of 50 yards or more in a season, most field goals of 50 yards in a season without missing, most field goals of 37-plus yards in a game (5), highest field goal percentage and most field goals made in a season.

The records are obviously something he’s proud of and his success eventually led to him being named to the Pro Bowl, quite a rarity in the NFL for a rookie kicker.

“Records are always nice to have, but my feeling about records is that they’re always meant to be broken, somebody’s always going to try to challenge it or break it at some point,” Walsh said.

As for the Pro Bowl?

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Being able to go in your first year in the league, the first time you’re eligible for it, it made it that much more special and to be surrounded by guys that are the best of the best is a dream.”

While the Vikings are in the middle of the offseason, it’s not time to relax for the kicker. Walsh is busy with his offseason schedule, juggling a few different tasks each week.

“Just continue to work out, work on the strength and conditioning program,” he said. “They put out manuals for you to abide by and I do a lot of running and try to stay in the best possible shape that I can and kick two or three times a week.”

The Vikings’ offseason has been interesting. The two obvious highlights include the trade of Wide Receiver Percy Harvin and the signing of free agent WR Greg Jennings from the rival Green Bay Packers.

“I think the Percy situation was a tough situation to handle, but I think they handled it the best that they could,” he said. “I wish him the best in Seattle, he’s a [heck of a] player and it definitely helps getting a guy like Greg. We have those two first round picks and I’m sure Rick Spielman will do a great job in the draft and continue to build.”

The playoff loss to Green Bay was tough, but Walsh and the Vikings remain positive.

“We’re a playoff team and now we gotta prove it again,” Walsh said. “Now that everyone knows what we’re capable of doing, people are going to be gunning for us. I think last year we took people by surprise and I think some teams didn’t realize how good we could be. I think we are a team that can make a deep run again this year and that starts in the offseason.”