Photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

In less than a week, Case Keenum, the Vikings and the “Minneapolis Miracle” have become the stuff of legends carried on the waves of “SKOL” chants.

After clinching an NFC Championship berth last Sunday 61-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to beat New Orleans, the Vikings quarterback rose to hero status in Minnesota. It didn’t only cause a big reaction in Minneapolis though.

It also resonated more than 1,000 miles away in West Texas.

“My reaction was probably like everyone else that was pulling for the Vikings. I was going crazy,” Abilene Wylie Head Coach Hugh Sandifer said. “I started yelling as if I was in Minneapolis while I was sitting here in Abilene.”

The longtime Bulldog head coach went 31-11 in 42 starts under during Keenum’s time as the primary signal caller. That stretch included a Class 3A state championship in 2004, which remains the only state football title in school history.

One of his teammates on that championship team, Josh Archer, saw the play unfold right before his eyes back in Abilene.

Minnesota Viking quarterback Case Keenum reacts after defeating the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium on Jan. 14, 2018 in Minneapolis. Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

“To me, that was signature Case,” Archer said of the NFC Divisional round’s game-winning touchdown. “Looking back at listening to what the receiver said, Case said, ‘I’m going to give one of you a chance. Be ready for the ball,’ that’s kind of how he commanded the huddle back in high school. He had poise in a situation that would have had a lot of people beyond shattered.”

In terms of population, the city of Abilene is nearly twice the size of the listed 66,655 capacity at U.S. Bank Stadium. The loyalties of those 122,225 people may be divided between the three largest high schools in the area — in Abilene High, Cooper and Wylie.

But as one of its native sons prepares for the biggest games in his life, the city feels like it has been painted purple.

“If you take the energy that was at U.S. Bank Stadium and put into a whole city, that’s probably what it was like here in Abilene,” Archer said.

Back in Minnesota, Keenum is taking everything in stride. It’s all that he’s done ever since he left Abilene Wylie.

Keenum led the Abilene Wylie Bulldogs to a Class 3A State Championship in 2004. Blake Wood/TexasHSFootball

“There’s certain football lessons that never change,” Keenum said to on Thursday. “Being a good teammate, working hard and playing smart are all things I learned in high school. I was lucky to have good coaches.”

It’s been a tumultuous journey for Keenum ever since his arrival in the NFL. From his stint with the Houston Texans to the St. Louis Rams and now during his current stretch in Minnesota, he had always been looking ahead to succeed.

A lot has changed for him since arriving in the league as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but those who knew him from his days at Wylie recognize success is something he’s always had in him.

“He’s always been a competitor and I think that’s what’s showing up now in the NFL,” Sandifer said of his former quarterback. “When he was in high school, we threw the football a lot as well and he had some great stats. He’s also really developed as a complete quarterback and has always been very smart. It’s obvious he knows how to prepare for the game.”

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“He has an incredible ability to adapt to any situation in any sport,” Archer added, “Growing up with him, he’s one of those kids that’s always picked first at recess because he knows how to do anything and everything.”

Case Keenum (left) and Stefon Diggs (right) celebrate after the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

“Doing anything and everything” also includes pulling off last Sunday’s spectacular play Sunday. Unlike his state championship win, though, Keenum is ready to look past the play and lock his full attention on the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Both are great feelings, it’s just very different,” Keenum said. “One is an end goal and the other one is a step on the path.”

That path eventually ends up back at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of Super Bowl 52. He now has the Vikings just one win away from one of the grandest stages in all of sports. While his team will be taking the field in Philadelphia, he knows he’ll have plenty of support back in Abilene.

“I love being from Abilene and have heard from lots of folks back home this season,” Keenum said. “From coaches and teachers to teammates to classmates and especially my family, I’ve been so blessed to have so much support.”

That support is reciprocated back home and on the eve of the biggest game of his career. Abilene will be ready to cheer on one of their own in the Super Bowl.

“If you’re from Abilene, Texas, you’re following Case Keenum,” Archer beamed. “He’s the type of guy that you can root for no matter what and that you want to see the best for him.”

“I just continue to tell him how proud we are of him and the attention that Abilene and Wyile High School are getting because of his accomplishments,” Sandifer said of the extra attention.
“I just keep telling him how much fun we’re having watching him. The city has embraced his success and everybody in town is pulling for him.”

Tony Venegas is an assistant editor with TexasHSFootball, covering prep football in the El Paso region and collegiate and professional football throughout the state. Follow him on Twitter,@advenegas, and read more of his content here.

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