Totino-Grace wins 2nd straight football title

| December 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

Jeff Ferguson, coach of the football team at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, talked with The Catholic Spirit photographer Dave Hrbacek after the team won its second consecutive Class AAAA state football title Nov. 27.

Though you won the state championship last year, you lost some great players to graduation, including John Crockett, one of the best running backs in school history. What was your outlook for this season when you started practicing back in August?

From left, Totino-Grace seniors Xavier Fust (46), Jake Schauer, Tyler Steele and Alex Kreuser (holding trophy) celebrate their team’s 34-14 win over Rogers in the Class AAAA state football championship game Nov. 27 at the Metrodome. For the Eagles, it was their second consecutive state title and eighth overall. Photo by Whitney Stramer, Totino-Grace

We really don’t point to anything other than preparing week by week. Our focus when we first started was preparing for Minnetonka [first game of the regular season]. We knew that that would be a big challenge to start the year, so that was our focus in terms of preparation.

Did winning a state championship surprise you, especially doing it so convincingly?
I wouldn’t say I’m surprised at all. We’re blessed with some pretty good players, and we’re also blessed with a whole bunch of really, really good kids. What we tend to see year to year is tremendous improvement from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Our players really, really improve individually and as a team, and I think it’s a credit to them and to my assistant coaches.

You have won six championships in the nine years you have been head coach. What are you doing with your teams that has created so much success?
I think, to some degree, success does beget success. I think that we have a great culture here. It’s a nurturing environment. And, I think a lot of things have just fallen into place. We get great kids, the kids work hard, it’s important to them, they trust us, I have a great coaching staff, we get support from the parents, and I love the way our kids approach the playoffs. There’s not this sense of being uptight. Our kids just go out and play. . . with a sense of joy. It’s fun to behold.”

You were an assistant to Dave Nigon, who won two state championships at Totino-Grace and re­peat­edly took his teams far into the playoffs, before replacing him as head coach. What have you learn­ed from him?
Dave was a great mentor to me, both as dean of students and as a football coach. I did play for Dave [before graduating from Totino-Grace in 1974]. His blueprint is all over the football program, just in terms of the foundation that he and Paul Gasner laid down. I got the job, I’m just trying not to screw it up.

Last year, you were invited to a special celebration with Arch­bish­op John Nienstedt. What was that like?
It was outstanding. We started out with liturgy, so we celebrated and worshiped together. Then, we went in and had a very relaxed but nice lunch at his place. He has the big windows overlooking downtown and the river in St. Paul. We shared some pasta. And, he was really engaging and had lots of good questions for our guys and engaged them. And then, he gave us a tour of the facility. He was just very, very warm and really connected well with our players. I’ve got a lot of res­pect for his doing that. I think it’s a good move and a bright move on his
part to connect with the younger members of the flock. I know our guys really appreciated that and I think they also enjoyed it and they enjoyed his company as well.

Would you go if you and your team were invited back again this year?
I’d love to be invited, absolutely.

What things do you want every player on your team to take away from their experience, regardless of their success on the field?
I hope that they learn from our coaching staff what it means to be a loyal friend, somebody that can be counted on. I hope that, in some small way, their experience makes them a better son, someday a better husband, a better father, a better friend. I hope they know that there’s a whole bunch of guys that they could count on at any time, if they’re down on their luck or if they’re in need. It’s just that whole sense of being able to trust and count on somebody.

What role does your faith play in the way you coach your team and work with your players?
I feel so good and so lucky to coach in a place where we can pray with our players — and we do. We had three significant events this year for our team. [Senior] Joe Zrust lost a grandparent, Charlie Miller, a sophomore, lost a grandparent, then my mother [Genevieve Ferguson] pass­ed away last month. The whole team came to the funeral, which was really heartwarming. I think [it’s] that sense of being able to pray, which we do before games and before meals, and just being in an environment where prayer and faith are a part of it, where players understand when you talk to them that we’re not doing this for personal glory. You don’t try to achieve things for personal glory, you want to honor your maker in doing the best you can in all things.

Title track

Here are the scores of the eight state championship games won by the Totino-Grace football team:

» 1977: 36-12 over Rocori of Cold Spring
» 1978: 17-14 over Apple Valley
» 2003: 57-13 over Hutchinson
» 2004: 27-6 over Sartell
» 2006: 40-25 over St. Thomas Academy
» 2007: 13-8 over Mahtomedi
» 2009: 45-7 over Sartell
» 2010: 34-14 over Rogers

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