Former Eden Prairie Football Association standout is Buccaneers starting safety
It’s a good bet Antoine Winfield Jr., the son of three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield, recorded his solo first tackle in his family’s living room. Fast forward to his grade-school days and you have Antoine Jr. playing his first organized football as a member of the Eden Prairie Football Association.
On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie takes his game to the Super Bowl.
“I remember watching him play in the third, fourth and fifth grade,” said Eden Prairie High School football coach Mike Grant. “He was always one of the smallest kids and always one of the best kids.”
Looking back, did he foresee Winfield playing on Sundays?
“He was a really good football player,” said Grant.
As an Eden Prairie High School freshman, Winfield earned varsity minutes, mostly as a special teams’ player, but sometimes as a defensive back.
“It’s rare to move a freshman up to varsity at Eden Prairie,” said Grant. “In my 29 years, I can only remember it happening three times.
“Travis O’Neel, who would go on to be an All-American at the University of North Dakota, did it in 1993,” added Grant. “Winfield did it and Antonio Montero did it a few years ago, kicking an extra point in a state championship game. What all three had in common was that they were all physically ready to play.”
More importantly, they were good people.
“Athletic ability and good character go hand in hand,” said Grant. “At the end of the day, it’s why some players get to the next level.”
Winfield moved from Eden Prairie to Texas following his freshman season. Three years later, he’d return north to attend the University of Minnesota.
Eden Prairie assistant football coach Win Hall, whose father Windlan Hall was a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings, remembers Antoine Winfield Jr. and his freshman teammate JD Spielman.
“JD was this amazing offensive player and Antoine Jr. played defense,” said Hall.
At practice, Hall, a defensive backs coach, had Winfield cover Eden Prairie’s best receiver.
“He didn’t have the size and strength of some of the older guys, but he had that ability,” said Hall. “He was smart, he was fast and he was tenacious.”
Today, Winfield is listed at 5-9, 203 pounds. He wasn’t nearly so big (solid) as an Eden Prairie freshman.
“He’s like his dad, a great tackler,” said Hall. “He understands body positioning and he gets under blocks.”
“He makes plays,” said Hall. “He’s a playmaker. He made plays in college (Gophers) and he’s making plays at Tampa Bay.”
In the divisional playoffs, a 30-20 win over New Orleans, his forced fumble led to Tampa Bay’s game-tying touchdown.
On the season, he’s credited with 93 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. He’s played more minutes than any rookie defensive back.
“He’s special,” said Hall.
Question: Does Winfield’s play make Hall a Buccaneers fan?
“Winfield is like Coughlin (Carter Coughlin, New York Giants), Cashman (Blake Cashman, New York Jets) and Connelly (Ryan Connelly, Minnesota Vikings),” said Hall, of four former Eden Prairie players playing in the NFL. “I’m not a fan of the teams; I’m a fan of the kids.”
And on Sunday, one of those kids plays in the Super Bowl.