Possessing perhaps the keenest set of coaching eyes in Minnesota high school football, Eden Prairie's Mike Grant sees the wealth of talent in senior Cole Kramer, who is set to begin his third season as the Eagles' starting quarterback.
The underrated athleticism. The strong, accurate arm. The innate sense of timing. The humble leadership. In total, a combination that's tough to come by.
It was enough for the 6-1, 180-pound Kramer to land a University of Minnesota scholarship offer, a first for an Eden Prairie quarterback at the local Division I program. Kramer accepted quickly and has since been the object of growing attention, from local media, recruiting websites, camps and well-wishers.
Seeing that, Grant, ever the pragmatist, made sure to remind Kramer of one important fact: He's not there yet.
"Right now, it's red and black," Grant said, referring to Eden Prairie's team colors. "Not maroon and gold. Don't get ahead of yourself. You've still got to finish strong here."
In Kramer, Eden Prairie not only has a quarterback with the talent, intangibles and work ethic to lead it to another Class 6A title, he's got the proper perspective, too. He guided the Eagles to the 2017 championship, the 11th in program history, and understands that nothing in his football life takes precedent over what happens over the next few months.
"I'm super excited for the season to start," said Kramer, who has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns — with no interceptions — in his two years as a starter. "We've got a great group of guys and the coaches are unbelievable. It's all I've been thinking about."
It's dedication to the task at hand — whether it be personal development, team goals or just being a good citizen — that sets Kramer apart from others of his ilk. There is no ego in his talk, no swagger in his walk. In the halls of his high school, Kramer knows it would be easy for some to dismiss him as just another privileged jock.
So he makes shredding that stereotype a priority.
"My thing is just to be nice to people," said Kramer, seeking to become the first Eden Prairie quarterback to win back-to-back championships. "Even if I don't know them, I'll say hi to them. I try to take that platform of being the quarterback for three years and use it to affect others."
It's a family thing
Kramer's family pedigree is an impressive list of high-level athletes, starting with his maternal grandfather Tom Moe, a Gophers football and baseball standout in the late 1950s who became the school's athletic director from 1999 through 2002.
His mother, Jackie, was a state champion tennis player at Edina, as was his aunt (Jackie's sister) Jennie. Both played Division I tennis, Jackie at Texas and Jennie at Minnesota. An uncle, Mike Moe, was a Gophers quarterback in the 1980s.
One of Jennie's sons is current Gophers linebacker Carter Coughlin. Uncle Bob Coughlin, Carter's father, is a former Gophers defensive lineman and now a pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.
"I've known that family for 40 years," Grant said. "They're just a great family."
That foundation is Kramer's base of strength.
"It all comes from my dad," Jackie said. "We grew up with my dad stressing family over and over, and that brothers and sisters will never leave your side."
Standing in the Eden Prairie high school parking lot, waiting for the varsity to finish practice, Cade Kramer, a 10th-grade receiver and standout athlete is his own right, spoke in glowing terms about older brother Cole.
"We practice together all the time," Cade said. "I can't remember all of the passes of his I've caught. And they're always right on target. Perfect spirals. It's amazing."
But brothers are known to fight. There must be something that he and Cole disagree upon.
Cade paused, giving the question serious thought, before shaking his head and responding.
"I can't think of anything. Seriously. We never fight. He's just a great brother. He deserves that scholarship."
Dedicated to improvement
Gliding among his offensive teammates in between running plays at a recent practice, Kramer looked every bit the part of confident leader. Between snaps, he moved through those waiting for their turns, football in his hand, stopping to share a joke or friendly banter. At the line of scrimmage, he barked out signals assuredly, then ran the play called by Grant. Usually, it resulted in a pinpoint throw to one of his receivers.
"He always hits me right here," said tight end Matt Sherman, centering his hands in the middle of his chest. "It's a perfect pass every time."
Not satisfied solely with the scholarship offer, Kramer spent the summer determined to prove it was deserved.
"I worked on a lot of things — footwork inside the pocket, getting away from pass rushers. I've been practicing throwing on the run," said Kramer, running through a lengthy to-do list. "Mainly building chemistry with my receivers."
The payoff for the thousands of passes, the time in the weight room, the camps and film work, is already evident.
"He just walks in now and he's in charge," Grant said. "And that comes with being a senior. He's bigger and stronger, more physical. He's done all the work."
Ryan Burns, the publisher of Gophers Illustrated website, which reports on all aspects of University of Minnesota football, was pleased that the Gophers' staff pursued Kramer. Burns acknowledges that Kramer doesn't have one elite-level "wow factor" aspect to his game, but instead has, in abundance, something more important: an unwavering desire to improve.
"I'm higher on him than most," Burns said. "I've seen the development he's made. He's added muscle, he's added arm strength. He went to a Nike camp and ran a 4.5 40. He's gone above and beyond in terms of putting in time."
Kramer will need to sharpen his understanding of coverages and reading defenses, but with his strong work ethic, Burns believes, that's just a matter of time.
"The Eden Prairie offense doesn't help because he's only asked to throw the ball six to nine times a game," Burns said. "But in a year or two, I see him developing into a complete quarterback."
Kramer plans to graduate early, in December, and enroll at Minnesota to get a jump on his college career. But those plans, of course, will have to wait.
"Right now, I'm solely focused on the team here," Kramer said. "Once the season ends, I'll look to the Gophers and focus my thoughts on that, but for right now, it's all about working for another championship."
Grant can rest easy.