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Minnesota native, former Gophers star Blake Cashman thrilled to be home playing for Vikings

Blake Cashman has had the same phone number since he was a 16-year-old student at Eden Prairie High School. He took it with him to college, where he starred for the hometown Gophers, then to the NFL, where he has spent time with the New York Jets and Houston Texans.

So, when Cashman signed with the hometown Vikings last week, it was pretty easy for family, friends and everybody in between to get in touch with him.

“I was overwhelmed with how many people reached out,” the 27-year-old linebacker said. “That’s what made it so special.”

The homecoming became official last week when the Vikings agreed to terms with Cashman on the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period. They signed him to a 3-year, $22.5 million contract a couple of days later. That served as the payoff for Cashman after he strung together the best stretch of his professional career last season.

“It’s amazing,” Cashman said of returning to Minnesota to play in the NFL. “I keep telling everybody that there’s not enough words to describe my excitement. I would say it’s a little overwhelming, so I’m trying to take it all in. It’s going to be special because I get to share this moment with my family and friends.”

Asked what exactly clicked for him last season, Cashman noted that being completely healthy for a change allowed him to play with a sense of freedom. He also credited Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans, in particular, for consistently putting him in a position to succeed.

“It was great to be able to play multiple spots,” Cashman said. “I think I was able to showcase my versatility and my feel for the game.”

It should be much of the same now that Cashman gets to work with Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores. He likely will play in multiple spots for the Vikings, potentially serving as the main communicator on defense, while sharing the field with running mate Ivan Pace Jr.

All of the intricacies will get ironed out in the coming months, whether it be at organized team activities, mandatory minicamp or training camp.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to start an offseason program,” Cashman said. “I can’t wait to get to work.”

After being formally introduced last week, Cashman made his first public appearance as a member the Vikings a few hours later, sitting in the stands at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild played host to the Anaheim Ducks. Fittingly, when the camera panned to Cashman midgame, he got up out of his seat and led a Skol chant. He had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.

“I just wake up, like, ‘Damn, I’m a Minnesota Viking,’ ” Cashman said. “You can’t draw it up any better. Not many players get this opportunity. I’m going to enjoy it, and I want to make everybody proud.”

Briefly

There is more defensive help on the way for the Vikings’ defense. A sourced confirmed to the Pioneer Press that the team has signed edge rusher Jihad Ward and agreed to terms with linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill.

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