Totino-Grace Opts-up to Class 5A for Football
After winning its sixth state title in eight seasons in Class 4A, the Eagles will take on the big school beginning this fall.
State champions in six of the past eight seasons, including the past two years, Totino-Grace, perhaps more so than in any other year, will have a chance to play and compete against the big schools in football.
“There were a lot of reasons that we felt this was the best decision,” Totino-Grace Activities Director Mike Smith said. “One factor was the success we have had in the last eight years.”
A Two-year Commitment
One of the others: the MSHSL rule change allowing schools to have the option of moving back down a class after two years, if it deems it necessary.
“I think its palatable being that it is for two years,” Totino-Grace football coach Jeff Ferguson said. “If it was four, it would be a little bit more difficult. Being a private school, we don’t really know what the future holds.”
Smith expanded on that point: “We have been talking about this since about 2003, but because it was a four-year commitment, we could not really do it,” Smith added. “We are not able to look into our youth programs and see what we have coming up. We don't have a youth system. Our school population is hard to predict, so to look out that far in the future made it complicated. With a two-year commitment we can look into our program and have an idea of how many kids we will have in the program.”
Would Totino-Grace have moved up if the MSHSL kept the option at four years?
“I doubt it,” Smith said.
Totino-Grace has 803 students, according to the school's website, which is the middle of the pack in terms of MSHSL enrollment requirements for the 4A level.
For football, a school can stay in Class 4A if its enrollment falls between 623–1,245 students.
That means that even if Totino-Grace increased its enrollment by even 50 percent, it could still stay in Class 4A for football. Ferguson said he could have gone either way during the decision-making process.
On the Fence
“I was right on the fence,” he said. “I could justify staying where we were and I could justify us going up. We are small for a 4A school, but we have won six of the last eight championships, too.”
For the 2011 football season, Totino will play in Section 2, Class 5A—with notable powers Mounds View and Stillwater, teams that play in the Suburban East Conference and are frequent visitors to the big school football state tournament. Both teams are consistently ranked in the top 10 in Class 5A, and both beat state powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall last season. Mounds View took down its conference rival in the quarterfinals of the 2010 state tournament.
“It is a tough section. There are some good teams in there and we look forward to what we can do,” Ferguson said. “We might get knocked out in the first round or make another run. Just like everyone else, I don’t know. I think we can compete and be competitive.”
“It is a tough section, no doubt about it,” Smith said. “I think that no matter where we were placed it would have been tough. [Class] 5A will be a whole new experience for all of us.”
Even if Totino-Grace has success with the big schools, Ferguson said he does not expect many schools in football, especially the ones currently in 4A, to follow its lead in moving up.
With the large student bodies that some of the 5A schools have, Ferguson said the smaller number of athletes that current 4A schools have may make it tough to compete at the next level.
“I don’t see many schools making the jump in football,” he said. “Even if we play well in 5A, it is a big challenge because of the numbers. I see maybe boys hockey teams going up, but not many in football. Too many schools have a lot of players, which can mean a lot more talent.
A Numbers Game
“Football is such a numbers game and it depends a lot on what happens during the season. A major injury to us might hurt a little more, because we probably don’t have the numbers like the Eden Prairie’s, Wayzata’s, Mounds View’s and Stillwater’s.”
In addition to the past two Class 4A state football titles, Totino-Grace won titles in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007.
Totino-Grace beat Rogers last season 34-14 in the Class 4A title game.
The Eagles won the Class 1A boys hockey state championship in 2002 and girls Class 3A basketball state title in 2008, but there isn’t much talk in the athletic program about any other sports moving up to a higher class.
Hockey gets the most attention after football in terms of discussion, but the Eagles boys hockey team has not made it back to the state tournament since its championship run in 2002.
“I think now that it is a two-year commitment more people will consider it,” Smith said. “but several of our sports already play in the biggest class. I think most of our programs are pretty happy were they are at.”
Shortly after Ferguson and the Eagles football team won their sixth state title, Melissa Slachetka of Fridley Patch interviewed Ferguson, and he touched on a number of topics, including the possibilities of moving up to 5A football. That article can be found here.