Kene Nwangwu first discovered he was really fast at a family picnic when he was 6. The NFL learned all about that last Sunday.

In the first game in which he handled the ball in the regular season, the Minnesota Vikings’ rookie running back took the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in a 34-31 overtime loss at Baltimore. Later in the third quarter, he ran nine yards for a first down on a fake punt.

On Wednesday, Nwangwu was honored as NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. And on Thursday, the Frisco, Texas, native talked about when he first realized he had elite speed.

“We were at a family picnic and I was running with 12-year-olds, and I was like 6 and and I was beating them,” he said. “And then my auntie was telling my mom, ‘Your son, you might need to put him in sports.’ ”

Nwangwu went on to become a football star at Heritage High School in Frisco and at Iowa State. The Vikings, intrigued by his 40-yard dash speed of 4.29 seconds, selected him in the fourth round of the 2021 draft.

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Nwangwu missed the first six weeks of the regular season while on injured reserve due to a hyperextended left knee suffered in the first exhibition game against Denver. And in his regular-season debut, the 20-16 loss to Dallas on Oct. 31, he was back for five kickoffs but all were touchbacks.

Nwangwu first handled the ball last week on a 23-yard kickoff return against the Ravens in the first quarter. Then came the start of the second half, with the Vikings leading 17-10.

“On the first kickoff return, I think it was like a tackle from the back side that got me, and I remember right after, I was talking to (running back Alexander) Mattison and (fullback C.J. Ham) and I was like, ‘The next one’s going to hit,’ ” Nwangwu said. “So, pretty much what I saw is I got past the first level and I saw the double team in front of me and I just took it to the sideline, and it was just a foot race.”

Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson sure liked watching Nwangwu run down the right sideline.

“He’s definitely fast,” Jefferson said. “I mean, coming out of halftime, that is a big play for us, coming out with a kick return to set the tone. And we definitely needed it. We just couldn’t hold that momentum.”

Minnesota ended up wasting Nwangwu’s second big play of the game. With the Vikings leading 24-17 and facing fourth-and-2 at their 33, up back Josh Metellus took the snap and handed it to Nwangwu, who ran nine yards down the right sideline. But the Vikings soon punted the ball back to the Ravens.

“That was probably my only fake punt ever,” Nwangwu said.. “Like Pee Wee, middle school, everything.”

Although the Vikings (3-5) have lost both games since Nwangwu was activated, there is belief moving forward that he can be a big contributor. He is the first Vikings player to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Cordarelle Patterson in 2016.

Patterson returned five kickoffs for scores while playing for the Vikings from 2013-16 before they struggled for the next four years in the return game. But now special-teams coordinator Ryan Ficken might allow Nwangwu to return the ball from deeper in the end zone.

“He’s got that rare skill set, and he’s very talented,” Ficken said. “We want to give talented guys the ball.”

Nwangwu is the third-string running back behind Dalvin Cook and Mattison, and has yet to be in for a play from scrimmage. But entering Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Chargers, offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said that could change.

“Definitely,” Kubiak said. “Kene has been proving since (spring drills) that he’s capable of being a really explosive playmaker. We’re glad to get him back and get him more incorporated into our offense.”

For now, Nwangwu is just happy to be back on the field. His injury on Aug. 14 sidelined him for more than two months.

“Just learning how to deal with different things that are going on,” he said of his season so far. “Learning how to be a rookie, learning how to be a professional, learning how to deal with injuries.”

And last Sunday he learned what it was like to have a welcome-to-the-NFL moment. Nwangwu said he received several hundred calls and texts from well-wishers.

“I was debating if I need to get a second phone,” he said.