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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
Eagan football coach Ben Hanson forgot to bring his phone Tuesday morning when he shared big news with two of his players.
The Wildcats are moving their homecoming game 6 miles north and will be the host team for the first high school football game at the Vikings' Twin Cities Orthopedic Stadium in Eagan. They will play Farmington at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28.
"Their faces were priceless," Hanson said. "To let them know that they're going to play at a facility like this, it's the perfect gift to give these seniors, our program, our high school and our community."
The Vikings announced Tuesday a five-game slate of high school football games this fall. A second regular-season game features Lakeville North against Prior Lake at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12. Three state tournament quarterfinal games also will be decided at the 6,000-seat, synthetic turf venue, one in Class 6A, two in Class 5A, on Nov. 9-10. A multiple-team scrimmage set for Aug. 25 was scrapped.
Use of TCO Stadium is an extension of the Minnesota State High School League's partnership with the Vikings. For the past two seasons, U.S. Bank Stadium housed the league's football semifinals and Prep Bowl championship games.
"The Wilf family is big proponents of high school football," said Kevin Warren, Vikings chief operating officer. "We're elated, and we'll do all that we can to make it as big as we can."
Eagan offensive lineman Cody Smith said of the anticipation: "It's going to be in the back of your mind all season. And the week before, with homecoming, it's going to be the only thing on our minds. I can already tell you that everyone is going to be through-the-roof excited to play in that stadium."
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins concluded his news conference by telling the high school coaches and players in attendance that "high school football were my favorite years" and adding that he would be watching.
Warren and Bob Madison, a league associate director, believe more is ahead. Warren said future prep games will draw from around the state, including 9-man teams, and that weekly games, including the youth and college ranks, are possible. With an eye on using TCO Stadium for soccer and lacrosse state tournaments, Madison said, "I don't think we'll stop with football."
Homecoming is Game 5 on Eagan's schedule, and Hanson acknowledged the difficult task of keeping players focused on a weekly basis.
"It's something to build toward, it's something we can use as motivation," Hanson said. "I think the coaches of these four programs are willing to set aside some of those concerns to have this opportunity for our programs and our communities. With the graciousness that the Vikings organization has provided our programs and our communities, it's a distraction worth embracing."
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