While the Detroit Lions put on their worst performance of the season in their Christmas Eve loss to the Carolina Panthers, there is still hype roaming around one of the players. Second-year tight end Shane Zylstra continues to receive praise after being the only Lion to score a touchdown in that game. And he didn’t just score one touchdown, he scored three.
The 26-year-old was born and raised in Spicer, Minnesota. He attended New London-Spice High School where he played at wide receiver and as the team’s kick and punt returner. Zylstra would go on to play four seasons at Minnesota State-Mankato, where he also ran track, competing in the long jump. He played for the Mavericks as a wide receiver, and lead the team in receptions (227), receiving yards (4,297), and receiving touchdowns (54). His 330 career points rank third-best in school history.
Post college, Zylstra signed with the Minnesota Vikings after going undrafted in the 2021 NFL Draft. After signing with the team he was moved to the tight end position. During final roster cuts, the Vikings waived Zylstra and he was picked up by the Detroit Lions as part of their Practice Squad.
Zylstra in the NFL
He made his NFL debut in the 2021 season but didn’t record his first career touchdown until 2022, in the Week 9 win over the Green Bay Packers. That also marked the first professional football game Shane and his brother, Brandon, would play together on the same team.
Since the trading of T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings, Zylstra has seen much more playing time. However, with a loaded toolbelt on offense, he hasn’t seen more than two targets in a game until Christmas Eve. On Saturday, Zylstra caught five of six targets for 26 yards, resulting in all three of the Detroit Lions’ touchdowns. His three-touchdown game made him only the second tight end in franchise history to produce a three-touchdown game. Tight ends coach Tanner Engstrand spoke in a press conference on Wednesday saying he couldn’t be more proud.
“A big game for him down there in the red zone. And, I couldn’t be more proud. He’s been very resilient. He’s been up and down off the Practice Squad a time or two. Been on the Active Roster, we had to put him down, and then we bring him – you know. And he comes back the same every day.”
So far this season, Zylstra has 10 receptions for 53 yards and four touchdowns. In his rookie season, he only recorded three catches for 34 yards.
The Detroit Lions now gear up for their final home game of the season against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Maddy Miller – Detroit Lions Beat Reporter
On Twitter: @madelynvmillerr
Detroit Lions: The Shane Zylstra Story
Detroit Lions: A Christmas Eve Disappointment
(AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)