When the Minnesota Vikings signed Loyola graduate Peter Pujals (Class of 2013) as a free agent the last night of this year’s NFL Draft, Pedro Pujals said at least one member of the family wasn’t pleased.

“J.C.’s a huge Packers and Bears fan,” Pedro said, referring to his middle child. “He was mad as hell for about 24 hours. He’s as competitive as anybody I know, but he came around.”

J.C.’s change of heart was good news for Peter, who considers his younger brother an inspiration. Pedro said J.C., who has Down syndrome, motivates Peter to maximize his God-given abilities.

“He taught me so many lessons growing up,” said Peter, a Glenview native who attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help. “I don’t think I would be in this position without him.”

One of four quarterbacks on the Vikings’ roster, the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Pujals said he plans to be present Tuesday through Thursday for the team’s first series of OTAs (organized team activities). He participated in the organization’s rookie mini-camp May 4-6.

Pujal’s road to the NFL started early. He said every step he took was carefully mapped out, including his decision to attend an FCS football program.

A two-sport standout in basketball and football at Loyola, Pujals continued his athletic success at Holy Cross. A four-year starter and the first four-time captain in the history of the program, Pujals set records in games (48) and starts (46) and ranks second in total offense (13,451), passing yards (11,695), completions (1,071) and touchdown passes (84).

“A reason I picked Holy Cross was because I believed I could play early and get exposure,” he said. “I have long-term goals and short-term goals, and I do what I need to do to achieve each of them.”

After graduating in December, Pujals went to Pensacola, Florida, to train at EXOS and prepare for a career in professional football. Working out next to six players who were selected in the first round, Pujals said he never felt intimidated.

“You have to believe you’re the best,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to be around guys like that.”

From a young age, Pedro said his oldest son always was determined to succeed in whatever he did. But Pedro made it clear he didn’t push Peter in sports. Instead, he encouraged him to be a well-rounded individual.

“Anybody can be good at one thing,” Pedro said.

Ryan Ribordy, a classmate and football teammate of Peter’s at Loyola, said Pujals often would talk about his dream of playing in the NFL.

“I don’t think I ever doubted him,” Ribordy said. “I saw his work ethic and his passion for the game. He did all the right things.”

Not only is Ribordy a supportive friend, he’s helped Pujals prepare for his future job. A certified personal trainer, Ribordy owns Rybo Strength in Northfield and worked with Pujals prior to the NFL Draft.

“There were times when he could have called it quits because I had other obligations, but he always wanted to finish, even if it meant doing it on his own,” Ribordy said. “It’s definitely cool and rewarding to be a positive influence on him.”

The Vikings have two more voluntary OTAs (May 29-31 and June 4-7) before mandatory mini-camp (June 12-14). Presason training camp starts in July. Teams are required to set their 53-player roster Sept. 1.

“Being signed was the beginning,” Pedro said. “All that did was give him a chance to compete, which is what he’s good at doing.”

Peter said J.C.’s outlook on life has impacted him immensely throughout the last several months.

“I know there are things he can’t do, which is why my mentality has been to not give up on anything I want to do and can do,” Peter said. “I know the journey ahead of me will be tough, but I am excited for it.”

Pedro said he’s not surprised by Peter’s success.

“That may sound less than humble without context, but Peter knows how to get what he wants,” Pedro said. “He’s worked hard to get to this point, and he’s been lucky to be surrounded by good people, including his brother.”

Photo credit: Holy Cross