It happens every year at this time. The summer heat loosens its grip, the air feels just a bit lighter, and before you can take that first bite of a Pronto Pup at the Minnesota State Fair, you realize it’s here:
To prepare themselves for Friday nights this fall, the Eden Prairie Eagles spent last Saturday morning as hosts to what might be Minnesota’s largest scrimmage, the annual Football Jamboree at Eden Prairie High School.
“We’ve been doing this for 30 years now,” said Eagles’ head coach Mike Grant. “It’s different teams over the years.”
This year, Eden Prairie invited Champlin Park, Chanhassen, Rochester Century and St. Thomas Academy to the event. Players, coaches, staff and fans packed the athletic fields around Aerie Stadium for the full contact scrimmage, which was as close to game action as the teams experienced during the pre-season.
“It’s really fun. It’s something we all look forward to,” said senior defensive end Will Schreiber. “It’s kind of an intro to our season, how we’re going to do, how we’re going to play.”
The Jamboree marks the completion of two weeks of intensive practices as the Eagles turn their attention toward the season opener this Thursday night at East Ridge in Woodbury.
“Two-a-days were all good,” said senior defensive tackle Tommy Pederson. “It’s really hard work, but you gotta get through it and that’s why EP is the best.”
To be the best this fall, the Eagles will rely heavily on an experienced group of seniors coming off last year’s state semifinal appearance and a tough loss to Maple Grove. Most teams would feel satisfied with that level of success, but the Eagles have grown accustomed to setting their sights higher.
“For our kids, the goal is always to win the state title,” said Grant. “I don’t know if they spend that much time thinking about the semis and revenge. We just want to win every game. That’s the way our kids are. They think we can win every game.”
Over the years, those wins have built an unmistakable reputation. That kind of notoriety creates high expectations year after year, but it’s something the Eagles have learned to embrace ever since their first of 11 titles in 1996.
“It’s exciting, but it can be a lot of pressure,” said Schreiber. “But I don’t think we shy away from doing what our past Eagles have done.”
Schreiber, a defensive end and captain, looks forward to adding another successful chapter to one of the state’s most successful programs.
“It’s fun to be able to have that legacy behind us because we know we can carry that on. We can live up to those standards.”
It helps considerably that the 2022 edition of Grant’s program features a senior-laden lineup, one that knows what it takes to make it to U.S. Bank Stadium in late November.
“We’ve got a veteran group of 13 or 14 starters back,” said Grant. “It’s rare to have that many. Normally we have like five or six seniors that have started before, but we have a veteran crew and we’ve just got to stay healthy.”
Senior quarterback Nick Fazi returns to his starting role to lead the offense, while Schreiber and senior defensive back Jacory Bates fortify the defense.
“The seniors are great leaders,” said junior Muhammed Saine, a 6’5” 270-pound defensive tackle. “They help out with everything.”
Saine has embraced the help from his upper classmates, and it’s paid off. He never played football until last season. This year, he’ll be starting for the Eagles. But he’s taken more from his experience than just learning Xs and Os.
“It’s helped me realize there’s more than football,” says Saine. “You’re supposed to be a good person on and off the field. That’s what the coaches have been teaching us.”
Those teaching moments are what the program is all about for Grant, who has been coaching the Eagles since 1992.
“Winning the state championship is the goal,” said Grant. “But to be able to work with these kids every day, to be able to shape them as young men, that’s the fun of it and that’s why we do it.”
The Eagles’ journey begins in just a few short days, but it can’t happen soon enough for this team.
“The games are just so fun,” said Schreiber. “Friday Night Lights, there’s nothing like it. I’m so excited.”