per Sid:

Among the rookie free agents the Vikings signed to tryout deals was Western Michigan center John Keenoy, who was recruited out of East Kentwood (Mich.) High School in 2015 by then-Broncos coach P.J. Fleck, now coach of the Gophers.

“I was a local kid, so you know [Fleck] was really passionate about bringing local kids in who cared about the program and wanted to see it do well,” Keenoy said at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, where Vikings rookie minicamp got underway last weekend. “As I got to know Coach Fleck and the staff, you can just see their energy on a day-to-day basis, of how true of a person he is and how much he wants you to succeed. That’s how I fell in love with Coach Fleck.”

Keenoy started 51 of 52 games for the Broncos over four years, reaching three bowl games.

The 6-3, 300-pound lineman said he didn’t have a lot of offers coming out of high school.

“I was undersized, so Coach Fleck took a shot on me,” Keenoy said. “I’m always thankful for that. I would not be here if not for him.

“I played four years, started all four years. My first two with Coach Fleck were pretty elite. We went to the Cotton Bowl his last year there. These last two were some rebuilding years, but I think the program is back on its way up.”

Respect for Fleck

Western Michigan’s Cotton Bowl season in 2016, in which the Broncos were beaten 24-16 by Wisconsin for their only loss of the season, was a big part of why the Gophers targeted Fleck for their next head coach.

Keenoy said that what you see is what you get with Fleck, and the center came to respect that. He also praised two of Fleck’s assistants who eventually joined Fleck at Minnesota, offensive line coach Brian Callahan and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

“Oh yeah, ‘Row the Boat.’ He loves it,” Keenoy said. “Coach Fleck, that is his mantra. Being a leader every day, that is what he lives by and he kind of extends it to his guys. You have to love it. I will always ‘Row the Boat.’ ”

“… I owe a lot of what I am today because of him and Coach Callahan and Coach Ciarrocca. Him and the staff that he surrounds kids with today, it is great.”

Keenoy said Callahan had a big influence on his play.

“My offensive line coach and my teammates along the way, like I said, Coach Fleck surrounds his guy with only elite men,” he said. “Coach Callahan, who I look up to a lot, was my O-line coach. I consider him a mentor and someone I can look up to.”

What did Fleck teach him that has stuck with him as he enters his first NFL camp?

“I think just be elite in everything you do,” Keenoy said. “He doesn’t just say have a chip on your shoulder, he says have a crack. It’s kind of what sets people apart: You’re always proving something or someone wrong.”

Since joining the Gophers in 2017, Fleck took the team from 5-7 that first year to 7-6 in 2018, including three impressive victories in the final four games: 41-10 over Purdue at home, 37-15 at Wisconsin and a 34-10 victory over Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Keenoy said patience with Fleck will be rewarded.

“I think he will be successful wherever he goes,” Keenoy said. “The people he surrounds himself with, the people he brings into the program, I think he does it the right way. It takes time, but I think he will win at Minnesota.”

Go Gophers!!