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Boxing workouts with a pro have helped Vikings' Alexander Mattison on the field

In his first two starts, Mattison rushed for 112 yards in a 30-17 Minnesota win over Seattle on Sept. 26 and a career-high 113 yards in a 19-17 victory over the Lions on Oct. 10.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Early in his NFL career, Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison became known for putting his track-and-field skills to use by hurdling defenders in games. This season, Mattison has added what he has learned from boxing to the football field.

Mattison, 23, in his third season with the Vikings, spent the offseason training in his hometown of San Bernardino, Calif., with good friend Rayshaun Thomas, a professional boxer. No, Mattison didn’t get hit or hit anybody but he said his overall training has been beneficial to his strength, stamina and mindset.

“It helps a lot, and even with the mental aspect,” Mattison said. “It’s kind of balancing the mental and the physical part.”

In Sunday’s game at Detroit, with Dalvin Cook sidelined with a shoulder injury, Mattison will make his third start of the season. In his first two starts, Mattison rushed for 112 yards in a 30-17 Minnesota win over Seattle on Sept. 26 and a career-high 113 yards in a 19-17 victory over the Lions on Oct. 10.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer obviously wouldn’t mind a similar output by Mattison in his second game this season against Detroit.

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“He’s had a lot of times when he’s started, so we’ll just continue to try to get him the ball, and hopefully he continues that trend,” Zimmer said Friday after Cook was officially ruled out for the game.

In his corner

Thomas plans to follow the action closely at a sports bar in San Bernardino. He’s predicting another big game from the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Mattison.

“He’s ready to put on a show,” Thomas said. “As a running back, he’s great, I don’t think anybody has seen his full potential yet.”

Mattison, 23, and Thomas, 25, grew up together in the California city 60 miles west of Los Angeles, and were teammates on the San Bernardino High School football team. Since turning pro last year, the 5-9, 130-pound Thomas is 4-0 and is the 58th-ranked boxer in the super featherweight division by BoxRec. He goes by the nickname “Nino the Boxer,” though he said most of his fans lately have been calling him “El Chivo,” which is Spanish for GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

Growing up, Mattison starred in track and field as well as football, and he has used those skills often to hurdle opponents. After last season, he decided that workouts at Thomas’ El Chivo Boxing Gym in San Bernardino would be beneficial.

“I was able to get with (Thomas) a lot this offseason and get some good work in,” Mattison said. “It’s doing footwork stuff and getting a good sweat burning and some fat burning and getting core exercises. Boxing is definitely different. It’s definitely a different realm, but it’s not for everybody.”

Thomas said Mattison trained as if he were a boxer minus taking and delivering blows. He said the two worked out during the offseason for two or three hours a day five or six days each week.

“I’ve trained him to teach him to box and (for) some of the boxing strength and conditioning drills,” Thomas said, “He did a lot of pad work. I basically go over the basics of boxing with him, and his work ethic is like that of an actual boxer. We have some of the toughest strength and conditioning exercises.”

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During the process, Mattison and Thomas have supported each other in their respective athletic careers. While at Big Punch Arena in Tijuana, Mexico, where Thomas won a majority decision on Feb. 26, 2021 over Jonathan Carrillo, the two exchanged jerseys.

Mattison gave Thomas a No. 25 Vikings jersey. And Thomas presented Mattison with the trunks he wore during the fight, which were in the purple and gold colors of the Vikings and had No. 25 on them.

“I’ve got his jersey hanging up in my house now, and he put his trunks hanging up at his house,” Thomas said.

During that fight, Mattison served as Thomas’ corner man, offering pointers.

Mattison attended Thomas’ most recent fight, a technical knockout of Don Stewart at Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minn., on Oct. 22, and he was introduced to the crowd. Thomas then watched Mattison play at SoFi Stadium in Minnesota’s 27-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 14.

“He’s one of my closest friends,” Mattison said. “I’ve learned from him about what punches to throw and to throw them also with good technique, to try to be quick with it, and have some force behind it.”

Sounds similar to what Mattison tries to do when hits a hole during a run and then battles for extra yardage. Mattison has 315 yards rushing this season and is a good bet to top his previous season totals of 462 yards as a rookie in 2019 and 434 last year.

Mattison is focused now on life as a NFL running back. Later on, though, Thomas believes he could excel at another sport.

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“He has the potential to do well as a boxer if that’s what he wants to do,” Thomas said.

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