Mike Grant still is trying to figure out why he decided to look for a new quarterback during the middle of Eden Prairie’s 2012 season.
The Eagles had won the 2011 championship in Class 5A with junior Grant Shaeffer as the quarterback. They were unbeaten to no one’s surprise halfway through the 2012 schedule when Grant decided to start alternating Shaeffer with sophomore Ryan Connelly.
“Grant wasn’t a natural thrower,” the coach said. “Connelly was a big kid with a rocket arm. I guess the thinking was, ‘Let’s see if we can throw more.’ ”
What made that interesting was the fact the Eagles of 2012 had Anthony Anderson and Dan Fisher — as hard-charging a pair of running backs as you’re apt to see on a Minnesota high school football team.
The Eagles won a couple of games with the Connelly-Shaeffer combination, and then were looking at games with Edina and Wayzata to close the regular season.
“I was playing mostly defensive back and some quarterback for those games,” Shaeffer said. “My older brother Gage played D-back for Eden Prairie and went to Iowa State, and I enjoyed playing the same position.
“Then, I went to Mike Grant before the Edina game and said, ‘I’m ready to go back to being a full-time quarterback.’ He said, ‘We’re going to go with Ryan for a while.’ ”
Eden Prairie lost to Edina and Wayzata. This was the first year of Class 6A and the defending large-school champions suddenly were looking vulnerable.
“What was I doing?” Mike Grant said. “[Shaeffer] didn’t have the greatest arm, he wasn’t the biggest, fastest or strongest kid, but he was always cool and calm under fire … and that’s what we needed in a quarterback.’’
Coach Grant made sure to add there was no criticism aimed at Connelly in rehashing this.
“Ryan Connelly became an outstanding football player for us on defense,’’ he said. “He walked on as a linebacker at Wisconsin, and he’s already earned a scholarship as a redshirt freshman.’’
As for Shaeffer, he was the quarterback for another state championship team — 28-7 over Lakeville North in the 2012 final — and then made the quick transition to basketball.
Shaeffer was the point guard on three Eden Prairie teams that reached the Class 4A state tournament. The Eagles lost once in the finals and twice in the semifinals.
“My football experience at Eden Prairie was fantastic, but at 5-11 and 165, it wasn’t really an option for college,” Shaeffer said. “And, basketball always had been my No. 1 sport.”
Shaeffer played summer ball with Tyus Jones and competed against him in the fifth through seventh grades. “We had a nice rivalry, I thought, and then Tyus went to varsity as an eighth-grader and left me a bit behind,” said Shaeffer, smiling.
A half-dozen schools from the Northern Sun contacted Shaeffer about playing basketball in that Division II league. Conner Nord, an Eden Prairie teammate, was a year ahead of Shaeffer and went to St. Thomas.
“Conner had all good things to say about St. Thomas … about the school, about playing in a program where you’re expected to win,” Shaeffer said.
St. Thomas has won 10 straight MIAC titles, with three being shared. On Wednesday night, the Tommies were home and outlasted St. Olaf 75-66. This put St. Thomas at 9-1 and gave it a two-game lead toward an 11th consecutive title at the halfway point of the MIAC schedule.
Shaeffer was a freshman backup to senior Erik Tengwall at point guard in 2013-14. Tengwall was injured before the MIAC playoffs. The Tommies won his first start vs. Bethel, then Shaeffer had a poor game vs. St. Olaf in a 63-53 loss in the playoff final.
Wednesday, there was a stretch in the second half when it looked as if the Oles had a chance for another upset in Schoenecker Arena.
It was 67-64 Tommies, with two minutes left when Shaeffer drove for a basket and a five-point lead. He followed with a spinning basket in the lane to make it 71-66 with 1:15 left. Then, the lefthander tipped the ball away for a turnover that finished the Oles.
Cool and calm under fire on the court as well as the football field.
Shaeffer was interviewed this week and was reminded that athletes from both Eden Prairie High School and the University of St. Thomas are very unpopular with opponents because of perceived advantages that lead to constant winning.
Which led the interviewer to ask: “So, how does it feel to have spent the last six years being loathed in athletics?”
Shaeffer didn’t argue; he just smiled again and said, “Winning too much is a good problem to have.”