For EPHS football, a night of celebration and remembrance

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Eagles head coach Mike Grant and his 1992 football team were honored during Friday’s pre-game ceremony at Aerie Stadium. Photo by Rick Olson

They made the trip from all parts of the country, coming from California and Texas; others arriving from Ohio, Colorado and Tennessee. Many came from parts of the Twin Cities metro and greater Minnesota.

All gathered under the lights last Friday evening, on the same pitch where they played football 30 years ago.

They are members of Mike Grant’s first team at Eden Prairie High School and have become known as “the team that started it all”.

They came together to commemorate Grant’s 30 years as Eagles head coach and remember a magical season in 1992 that started a remarkable run that continues into the current season.

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“First and foremost, it’s going to be great to see all the guys that we knew when they were 18 and are now 48 and 49,” Grant said ahead of Friday’s event. “The most important thing is to reconnect with some of those players that we had years ago.”

Grant came to Eden Prairie after 9 seasons as head coach at Forest Lake (1981-86 and 1989-91), as well as a 3-year stint as offensive coordinator at St. John’s University.

After consecutive 1-7 seasons, Grant’s inaugural team compiled a 7-1 regular season record in 1992 and advanced to the region’s playoffs, where they fell to the defending champion. of the State, Burnsville.

“We’ve won a lot of games since, we’ve had a lot of good kids,” Grant said. “But they were our first champions.”

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The 1992 campaign marked a turning point for the program, which would win its first state championship four years later. For the players on this Eagles team, it was an experience they could never forget.

“Collectively, we were all the football team, the baseball team, the basketball team, some hockey players,” said Aaron Clark, the team’s defensive player of the year. “It was the most special season of our lives, so to this day it’s a common thread for all of us.”

Aaron Clark (right) greets Eagles head coach Mike Grant during the pre-game ceremony honoring the 1992 football team on Friday at Aerie Stadium. Photo by Rick Olson

Clark, who now lives in Nashville, was responsible for organizing the event. As he and his teammates gathered on the pitch ahead of the game, he recalled how some of them considered giving up their final season before Grant arrived.

“A lot of us were wondering if we were even going to play football our senior year,” Clark said. “But from the first meeting, we knew. Mike would ask us, ‘Hey seniors, who among your classmates doesn’t currently play football but should?’ We thought, ‘Oh wow, he asks some interesting questions.’ And then he put his system in place, and we were all always so impressed with his knowledge of football. It is incomparable.

Fast forward 30 years. Grant’s teams have won 23 conference championships. Eden Prairie’s 14 playoff appearances and 11 state titles are the most of any Class 6A football program.

“Mike does really well with the kids,” said Todd Fultz, who arrived with Grant from Forest Lake and was an assistant on the 1992 team. individually, because every child is different, and he was able to gain their trust, gain their trust, and then they followed.

As rain poured down on Aerie Stadium on Friday night, the assembled teammates stood in the end zone, oblivious to the weather, waiting to be introduced. Their camaraderie was on full display amid hugs, laughter and fond memories.

“Many of us were in each other’s marriages,” Clark said. “Even though we haven’t seen each other, sometimes physically for over 20 years, the second we see each other, we pick it up right away.”

After the ceremony, the group stayed to watch Eden Prairie take on Farmington. The 2022 version of Grant’s team shows great promise for another run through November. Expectations that high weren’t a burden on the Eagles for the past three decades.

Mike Grant’s 1992 team, his first at Eden Prairie, was honored Friday night before the Eagles game against Farmington. Photo by Rick Olson

“It felt like a small town when we were here 30 years ago,” said Jason Raaum, a safety and running back for the 1992 team who flew in from Seattle for the event. “We had half the number of players they have now.”

The former players came away impressed with the Eagles’ current resounding 51-7 victory over Farmington. And while there were plenty of gray beards among them, most were wearing their Eagle jerseys and many still fit perfectly into their lettered “EP” jackets.

“In all the state championships they’ve had, it’s just an awesome dynasty,” Raaum said. “But Coach Grant calls that first team all the time. And it was special for us, certainly as players. But hearing that was super special for Coach Grant and the rest of the staff was great to hear as well.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

“We are very proud of what Eden Prairie football has become and what it is today,” said Clark. “We always cheer on every Eden Prairie team every season from afar.”

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