Nick Keenan was one of the last coaches out to the practice field Monday morning. The new Champlin Park head football coach was taking care of some of the last-minute details that accompany the beginning of each new season.
"We had a few guys signing up still," Kennan said.
Taking over for now-departed Mike Korton, Keenan is just the third head football coach in school history. He came over from Big Lake, where in five years he turned a moribund program into one poised for success.
Champlin Park has seen lofty heights in recent years — the Rebels made the Class 6A semifinals in 2016 — so no overhaul is needed. But Keenan, an Eden Prairie native who began his high school coaching career as an assistant at Champlin Park, is finding ways to leave an early imprint.
"I played under [Eden Prairie coach Mike] Grant and took a few things from him," Keenan said. "I took all the good things I can remember, everything I've learned, and tried to put it back in."
A point of emphasis in the offseason was boosting numbers. Keenan got a windfall of youngsters by holding an eighth-grade signing day.
"We went to the middle school and recruited those kids," he said. "We had them sign letters of intent and put them in our new varsity jerseys and took their picture, just like they do on college signing days."
The move paid off. The staff handed out 184 sets of gear to players from ninth through 12th grade.
There's a load of defensive talent returning, led by stalwart defensive tackle Hayden Carr. And the offense is back in the hands of star quarterback Bennett Otto, who missed all of 2017 with a back injury. Otto, who has committed to play basketball at Augustana, is thrilled to get back on the football field.
"Football has always been a big part of my life," said Otto, who worked out with the football team all summer. "I'm looking forward to it. I haven't played in a year and a half, so I'm excited to get back out there. I want to surprise some people."
So far, players and coaches are pleased with Keenan's approach. Otto said he likes what he's seen so far, calling Keenan "pretty laid back."
Assistant coach Pete Ockuly, who has been with the program for two decades, summed it up with a comparison of two highly successful coaches.
"Coach Korton was more like Vince Lombardi," Ockuly said. "Coach Keenan? He's like Pete Carroll."