Mike Grant has been teaching, administrating and coaching football for 40 years at Twin Cities area high schools. There was a two-year respite in 1987 and 1988 when he worked as an assistant to John Gagliardi at St. John's, and then returned to Forest Lake High School.
One reason being that Grant discovered there was considerable accuracy to Gagliardi's favorite quip: "When I came to St. John's, the monks told me there was a vow of poverty. I didn't realize that included the coaches."
Another reason was the energy found when walking into a high school in the morning. For the last three decades, that has been at Eden Prairie, the athletic powerhouse in the southwest suburbs.
"The chaos and craziness of the high school world … I've missed that this fall,'' Grant said. "It's hard to beat this time of year at a high school. Football games, of course, but the marching band, the fall musical, the signs on the walls for all the events, for the debate team, the speech team, the dance team.
"Organized chaos. It's great.''
Grant paused in a phone conversation, and said: "We have 600, 700 kids who have chosen to be online full-time. We have restrictions on when other students can be in school.
"You look in the cafeteria … there are two kids on different sides of a long table. We're safe as it's possible to be here. Our students have been terrific sticking to the rules for dealing with the virus.
"At the same time, you walk through the school and it's so quiet. It makes you sad.''
Come the afternoon, Grant does have the chance to take in the full excitement of involved youth. This is his 29th football season at Eden Prairie, and although it was delayed and shortened, and there will be no state tournament, he said:
"I've enjoyed this group as much as any I've coached. Every day is stress-filled as never before, for students, for teachers, for the staff, but practice is still a time we get to have fun, to tell our jokes, to find out what's going on with each other, and to find out about ourselves as a team."
Another Grant pause and he said: "I've known some of these seniors since, what, the third grade? To see the years of effort those boys put in to be the players they've become, the people they've become, that's always the best part of coaching.''
Once school resumed in September, and practice for a six-game regular season started, the school announced that Grant, 63, would retire after 19 years as athletic director on Jan. 1.
To nobody's surprise, it also was announced that Grant would remain as the football coach. True, the Eagles have not won Minnesota's largest-school championship since way back in 2017, but with a 311-32 record and those 11 state titles in the past 24 seasons … the Eden Prairie administration decided to let him hang around.
Five of those victories have come since the October start of the schedule: Minnetonka, Shakopee, defending 6A champion Wayzata, Edina and, on Friday night, a 35-7 victory at Prior Lake. The 5-0 record has come by a combined score of 199-27.
In normal times, the game would have played within the crazed chaos of thousands of rival students in the little valley that's home to the Lakers.
Instead, under Minnesota COVID-19 rules, there were 125 tickets distributed by each team. On Thursday, Grant had been wearing the AD hat, driving to St. Michael-Albertville to hand over that school's 125 tickets for next Wednesday's regular-season finale at Eden Prairie.
What'cha got this time, Grant was asked through his speaker phone.
"We have a very good quarterback in David Warren-Mitchell … not the biggest guy, but a very accurate passer,'' Grant said. "On defense, we have Justice Sullivan, the end-linebacker going to Iowa, and Sam Henry … he's going to North Dakota State.
"Forrest Scheel is a huge tackle, 6-7, 300. He can move, too. He can play D-I. And Cade Kramer, kid brother of Cole, a Gophers' backup quarterback, is committed to D-II [Minnesota Duluth], but he's the best receiver we've ever had. The D-I schools in the region are missing on him.''
There's more, including the Eagles' usual nest of talented running backs (led by Johnny Hartle), and this was a team focused on Prep Bowl victory No. 12 … if there were such a thing in 2020.
"There's a max of three playoff-type games, down to the 6A semifinals, and then it's over,'' Grant said. "We're hoping the virus doesn't interrupt things, we keep winning, and our seniors get a chance to play nine games. They have earned that.''
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