After a few days of processing everything that was this season after our semifinal loss to Eden Prairie, the only word that constantly came to my mind was “Challenges”. I am unbelievably proud of this team because they were constantly given obstacles that people said they could not overcome and they kept voyaging forward and becoming the best they can be. From the moment last year finished they were told they were going to have to rebuild because of the players that were lost many felt were irreplaceable. Then their schedule was introduced and it was the toughest schedule any Maple Grove team has ever seen as 7 of the 8 state qualifiers in the state were either people on our schedule or us as we played all our games leading to the semifinals. People wondered how this group would survive because there were no stars that everybody knew. After that we had starters that were injured or did not come out before the season began, and others that had crazy things happen during the first week of fall camp, but they never wavered. We had people changing positions all over the field to try to fill in the gaps and to give us the best chance to succeed and nobody complained. Others had to go both ways in major roles and never let fatigue be an issue or an excuse. This team was a major representation of resilience, drive, and ability to overcome situations where things seemed pretty down. Because of this, I cannot be prouder of what these players accomplished because they did it with all the intangible elements that truly are going to make a difference for them down the road.
Memories are plentiful throughout this year ranging from the opening win against our inner-district rival Osseo to the semifinal game against Eden Prairie where a Maple Grove team got to play inside for the first time in school history. In between were a 3 point victory over state qualifying Prior Lake; a fantastic, high energy game against a Prep Bowl qualifying Minnetonka game where we fell behind 20-0 and came back for a 21-20 lead before a hard fought loss that went down to the last second; a win at Burnsville where Evan Hull rushed for over 240 yards and 4 touchdowns; a rain-soaked win against another state qualifying team in Lakeville North, and a season closing win against Wayzata where we scored 28 points in the 2nd quarter. Then the playoffs began with the most unbelievable weather that I have ever seen as a coach. The first game having to play Wayzata twice in nine days with our field covered with ice, heaters on the opposing sidelines, and a run of 28 points in four minutes that was awesome. Then the game ended with a special moment where the integrity of our young men was on display as Wayzata scored the final touchdown in a manner that moved anybody that was there. When it seemed that weather was bad, the next week came and we played on a field where shovels and plows were needed against a 7-2 Roseville team that was rated 6th in the state and Evan Hull was able to rush for 397 yards that catapulted us to our 5th consecutive state appearance. Then we enter the state in a game with sub-teen temperatures against the 3rd rated St. Michael team that blew out everybody all year and the Maple Grove Miracle transpired. Those 19 points in :59 seconds will live in constant lore in Maple Grove history and it could not have represented what this group of young men were about all year. They constantly were told their backs were against the wall and they believed in each other throughout. They never doubted, and they ended up as the 3rd Maple Grove team in 4 years that made the semifinals that few gave a chance.
Obviously, the disappointment of the final game still stings, but I truly felt they gave everything they had and went until they had nothing left. A very good team with strong, physical kids gradually wore us down, but they did not steal what was the heart and soul of a team that persevered from day one. I am going to miss this group of Seniors more than they know because they took the field in a manner every week that truly should make everyone proud. They would do whatever it took for each other to get things done and give us the best chance to be great. We had numerous young man battling injuries but not saying a word, and sacrificing for one another week in and week out. But that was developed long before this season. They dedicated themselves to morning after morning of intense workouts, mat drills, our summer program, SDSU, film nights with one another, and moments where simply they had to be great teammates and pick each other up during tough times. This group should take unbelievable pride in what they developed together and how they faced every physical and mental challenge in a way that allowed them to know they were going to make it down the road. They were gritty. They were tough, and they turned into a phenomenal group of young men that gave everything they had for one another. I cannot be prouder of anything a group of young men have achieved because they truly are Champions. We fell one game short on the scoreboard, but they won the scoreboard that will carry themselves through the rest of their lives. They will be great co-workers, husbands, friends, and parents and its brings me tremendous pride in knowing what their futures hold.
All I ask of you is never lose that grit and take pride in all you can overcome when things seem tough because you have already done it. We have talked over and over again that nothing worthwhile results from convenience, but it was a privilege to see the love you developed for one another as you embraced the struggles that were constantly given to you and the joy you showed in conquering them over and over again. To the fans, parents, community, coaches, coaches’ families, sponsors, school, and administration, I thank you for another wonderful year, and I hope it was as worthwhile for you as it was for us. This team did things that others did not think possible and they captured the hearts of many throughout our community and even the country with the heart and tenacity they showed! Be proud fellas. I know I always will be and you will hold a very special place in my heart that will never be replaced. GO CRIMSON!