With a 28-20 victory over Eden Prairie in the Prep Bowl on Nov. 25, Totino-Grace completed the climb from football program in Class 4A — where a school with its enrollment of 735 students would normally be placed — to champions of Class 6A.
Eagles coach Jeff Ferguson attended Totino-Grace and has directed the team for 15 seasons. He has won eight state championships in three classes and compiled a remarkable 171-21 record over that span. Ferguson, who is also is the dean of students at the school, took a few minutes to talk with staff writer Jim Paulsen about what Totino-Grace has accomplished.
Q Now that you've had a few days to reflect on reaching the top of the mountain, what stands out to you?
A I don't want to measure what we do or who we are because of that game. The older I've gotten, the more I realize the way to measure success is not by scores. The privilege goes beyond football. High school is a fun time and a really important time for kids. What I want to reflect on is the journey. They come to us as kids and leave as young men and women. At the same time, the winning part is really fun [laughs].
Q The challenges at a private school are different than a public school. Can you talk about those differences?
A Enrollment at our school has never been more challenging. When I went to school here, the cost was about $300. Now it's $14,000 a year. We used to get kids mostly from about 40 surrounding schools. Now it's about 100. We work hard to get kids to come for a great education and a cool culture.
Q Some say Totino-Grace has a recruiting advantage. Your response?
A Do we recruit? Damn right, we do. We recruit students, not athletes. We have not and will never give one dollar in financial aid for an athletic scholarship. It's funny. People think I spend my weekends driving around Andover looking for players. It's about the school. The better our school is, the more students we attract. That's the selling point.
Q In most public high schools, football has a youth feeder program. Totino-Grace doesn't have that. How do you have success when you don't see players until ninth grade?
A It's hard. At Eden Prairie, for example, a lot of those kids have been together since third grade. As freshmen, our kids are just trying to remember plays. It's about being good students, accepting the coaches and being men for those who aren't strong enough to purge selfishness. It's all about the team. That's what I've get pumped about: how far they've come since ninth grade.
Q You've beaten Eden Prairie three times in a row. What are your thoughts on that rivalry?
A As far as me and Mike Grant go, I enjoy … him. There is stuff about him that aren't football things, programs that he has that help people that people don't know about. [Grant is the activities director at Eden Prairie.] He's a fine man, and I have so much respect for him. It's become a rivalry. We've played in some really big games. I love playing them because they're so well prepared and play so hard. You have to earn every little inch.