September 03, 2010
Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School is on a season-opening road trip today, but unlike every other team in the country, the Eagles will need their passports.
After it's former conference collapsed, Eden Prairie was left in a new league -- the Lake Conference -- with only four other teams. That meant Eden Prairie head coach Mike Grant had to do a lot more out of conference scheduling, and he found the search for an opening week foe tough going. Even teams as far away as Arkansas and Iowa couldn't find an opening on their schedule.
Eventually, he looked in one of the most unusual places for an opponent: Across the border in Canada. Here's how Grant explained the decision to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
"We looked all over. And we weren't looking at schools with 500 kids," Grant said. "We wanted a team that would be competitive. But when you get down to it, there just aren't a lot of states that allow teams to play freely outside and that have openings. They've already figured out how to schedule everybody, and they take care of all their teams in the state to make sure everybody has a schedule."
Today there's a full 80 members of the Eagles in Winnipeg, where a squad split in two will compete in separate games against schools from Manitoba, both of which will go on Eden Prairie's regular season record.
As the Minnesota Sun reported earlier this month, Eden Prairie will first kick off against the Oak Park Raiders in Canad Inns Stadium, which hosts the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The opener is set for the odd kick off of 5:30, with a second team of Eagles to take the field in a second game later.
Both games will be played using Canadian football rules, which allow 12 players on both sides of the ball instead of 11. The field will be a full 14 yards wider and the two 20-yard end zones will stretch the total field length to 110 yards. There are additional rules geared toward forcing teams to use more explosive offenses as well - the Minnesota Sun does a good job of explaining all the differences between American and Canadian football - and Grant has plans for how to use the changes to help his team.
"Those Canadian football rules will test our players, but they are looking forward to the challenge," said Grant. "We hope to take advantage of the wider field on running sweeps.
"And the bigger field will allow some of our receivers to show their speed."
The Canadian game isn't entire foreign to Grant, whose father, Bud, coached the Blue Bombers in the CFL before leading the NFL Vikings in four different Super Bowls. The elder Grant will be on hand Friday to perform the opening coin flip and root on his son's team.
If Mike Grant can channel some of his father's success, he might just leave Winnipeg with two wins on his team's record only a single week into the season. That result would be as unique as the start of Eden Prairie's season that Grant helped draw up.