No Minnesota prep sports program has the polarizing effect of Eden Prairie football. This year should be no exception. The Eagles, winners of the past four big-school football state championships — a feat no other program has done — are the preseason favorites to do it again. No team has defeated them since Wayzata did it in 2012. They haven’t lost in the state tournament since 2010. That is what gets football fans so fired up. For all who marvel at the Eagles’ remarkable success, others roll their eyes and plead for someone, anyone, to knock them off. Staff writers and longtime prep football observers David La Vaque and Jim Paulsen give voice to both camps.
A cold November reign
By David La Vaque
George Thole could only laugh.
The longtime Stillwater football coach, who retired with four state championships, stood with old friend Mike Grant last fall on the TCF Bank Stadium turf. He offered Grant, Eden Prairie’s coach, congratulations for a fourth consecutive state title and 10th overall.
“They should move Eden Prairie to Class 7A,” Thole joked.
Some prep football fans shake their heads and smile about the Eagles’ dynasty. Others, from parents with sons in competing programs to rabid fans, renew their bitterness with each conference title and section victory of its November reign.
They are tired of the winning, of course. Eden Prairie’s current postseason run of 20 consecutive victories includes four state titles. The Eagles also have a 30-game winning streak overall. Most grinding, though, are Eagles’ fans views of why the team is successful. This idea that hard work and sacrifice are qualities unique to Eden Prairie.
Football is a numbers game. Eden Prairie is one of two high schools (Wayzata is the other) in the state hovering near 3,000 students.
The affluent community invests in its sports programs. Grant is the son of Minnesota football royalty. And Vikings headquarters are within city limits.
Such advantages really cannot be replicated by other communities.
Then consider all four of the Eagles’ latest title teams benefited from a player moving in from out of state or transferring from a metro area high school.
The Eden Prairie Eagles are the haves. To their credit, they have not messed it up. But some football fans refuse to wave as this parade rolls by. In today’s slang, such people are labeled haters. Does that make them wrong?
It's a program built for success
By Jim Paulsen
Love it or hate it — and there are plenty on both sides — Eden Prairie is the greatest high school football program Minnesota has produced.
Let’s get the numbers out of the way: 18 state tournament appearances in the past 19 years. A state record 10 championships, including the last four large-school crowns — something no other program has done. A current winning streak of 30 in a row.
Surely there must be some thing that Eden Prairie has that others do not? Nonsense.
Detractors cherry-pick Eden Prairie’s advantages, but in the end it comes down to kids and coaches and an enviable system.
Doing on-field interviews after a 13-7 victory over Maple Grove in the 2014 Class 6A semifinals, I was struck at how normal the Eagles looked, no bigger nor faster nor stronger than those of any other school. Yet, as usual, they made the plays needed to win.
Truth is, coach Mike Grant’s system is built for success. He sees things on the field that most coaches miss. He’s not a screamer or a disciplinarian. He shows trust in his coaches and confidence in his players and the results are obvious.
Such unparalleled success brings gripes that “the school is too big” or “they have advantages other schools don’t.” Some toss out accusations of recruiting, although those voices fail to offer proof.
Hordes of fans watch the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys in hopes of seeing them lose. People tune into the Prep Bowl wondering if this is the year Eden Prairie gets beat. Makes for great discussion, good drama and higher TV ratings.
If you’ve seen Eden Prairie play — in person or at the Prep Bowl — keep those memories fresh. You can say you’ve witnessed the best there’s ever been.