Vikings
Former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Zylstra (15) is at home in Spicer, Minn., preparing for his second season with the Carolina Panthers. (Noah K. Murray /USA TODAY Sports)

MOORHEAD — Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon Zylstra recently completed breakfast, as he’s back home in Spicer, Minn. His younger brother, Jaden, asked if he wanted to play catch on that cold March morning.

“I can never turn that down,” Zylstra said with a laugh.

The throw-and-catch session didn’t last long for Brandon and Jaden, who is a high school junior, with temperatures hovering below 20 degrees. The blustery wind coming off the private lake next to the Zylstras’ house also made conditions feel colder.

"We didn’t spend too long outside because it was cold, but we at least got out there,” said Zylstra, who soon turns 27 years old. “We probably spent 10 minutes out there. It wasn’t very long.”

Zylstra had been working out at the Training Haus in the Twin Cities area with Bill Welle for about a month, but that facility had to close recently due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Panthers were set to start organized team activities on April 6, but that has been put on hold indefinitely.

“I don’t know when I’m going to go back, so as far as in my workouts I’m not sure when I’m going to need to ramp it up again,” Zylstra said. “I kind of had a schedule going into this offseason and now it’s just so much unknown.”

In the meantime, Zylstra decided it was best to go back home to Spicer, Minn., to spend time with family and do his best to continue his offseason training.

“I’m hanging out with family and staying safe,” said Zylstra, who completed his college career with the Concordia Cobbers.

Zylstra started his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings, playing in 16 games in 2018, primarily on special teams. He had one catch for 23 yards. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Zylstra played in eight games for the Panthers last season and had eight catches for 106 yards.

The Panthers have Zylstra’s contract rights for one more season.

“My approach heading into this season is I have to put it all out there,” Zylstra said. “This is a contract season, this season isn’t guaranteed and any season after this isn’t guaranteed.”

READY TO PLAY WITH BRIDGEWATER

The Panthers are set to have a new look next season, hiring Matt Rhule as their new head coach. Rhule was the head coach for the Baylor University Bears the past three seasons. Carolina also recently agreed to terms with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who used to play for the Minnesota Vikings. The deal is reportedly worth $63 million over three years.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about Teddy, him being from Minnesota,” Zylstra said. “Everybody always talks super highly of him.”

The Panthers played the New Orleans Saints last December to close out the regular season. Zylstra had six catches for 96 yards and also got the chance to meet Bridgewater, who played with the Saints last season, after the game.

Zylstra was talking to Saints running back Latavius Murray after the game. Zylstra knew Murray from his time with the Vikings.

“I was like, ‘I’ve got to introduce myself to Teddy really quick,’” Zylstra said. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, I know who you are.’ … It was cool he actually knew who I was. I at least had an introduction before him getting signed here.”

The Panthers claimed Zylstra off waivers prior to the start of last season. He wanted to stay with the Vikings, with them being his home state, but viewed the move to Carolina as a new challenge.

“Ultimately, it was great,” Zylstra said of joining Carolina. “I absolutely loved it.”

Zylstra said he respected former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was fired after nine seasons in Carolina and is now the head coach for Washington.

“It was tough to see him go,” Zylstra said.

Zylstra added he’s excited to play for Rhule.

“It’s new for everybody,” Zylstra said. “I’m not the only new person coming into this. I think it’s going to be an adjustment for everybody. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take a very detailed, scheduled offseason to try to get everything dialed in before the season starts.”

Zylstra said one challenge is finding places to train to stay in shape and prepare for the NFL season. Once the weather improves, Zylstra wants to be outside more. He’s also going to rely on home and garage gyms of family friends in the area.

“It’s tough to go find places to work out, places that actually have everything that I need in order to get a good workout in,” Zylstra said. “It’s finding the right people to go work out with. It’s hard to find people to go throw with and what not.”

He’s also done some training this offseason with his brother, Shane, an NFL prospect who had a strong career at Minnesota State-Mankato. Shane Zylstra, who is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, played wide receiver for the Mavericks, finishing his career with 227 receptions for 4,297 yards and 54 touchdown catches.

“I’m very confident in him. I know what kind of player he is, I know what kind of person he is,” Brandon said. “He’s somebody that can stick in the NFL I think. It’s all about that opportunity for him. I think for sure, he’ll at least get into a camp. It’s tough to overlook all those stats.”

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