On Sunday, 10 of the state’s best football players will wait nervously in a banquet hall at the St. Louis Park Doubletree Hotel in the hopes that they’ll hear themselves named Minnesota Mr. Football. The award, which recognizes the best senior football player in the state, is the preeminent honor in Minnesota football.
Nine boys will go home disappointed. But for one star athlete, his football future will seem unlimited.
He’ll be wrong.
A Long Shot—Even for the Stars
It’s well known that players aiming to play in the NFL face long odds. What’s less well known is that the odds are stacked against even the best players. Just six alumni of the Minnesota High School All Star Football game are playing in the NFL now, plus three more on practice squads, according to the Minnesota Football Coaches Association.
To put that in context, there were 94 players on last year’s rosters between the two teams. Of the 3,900 players and 400 coaches who have taken part in the game over the years, just 74 have gone on to play in the NFL.
All Star MVPs don’t fare much better. The association selected 44 MVPs between 1998 and 2008—the most recent 10-year period that allows for a full redshirt-freshmen collegiate cycle. Of those, only five have actually played in a regular season NFL game, according to a Patch analysis. Four more suited up with practice teams but were either released without playing or only made it onto the field in the preseason before they were cut.
Even Mr. Football recognition is no predictor of success. Just two Mr. Football selections made it to the NFL of the five players recognized between the time the award started in 2004 and 2008—the most recent year that awardees would have had a full collegiate cycle. Only one of those, Cretin-Derham Hall star Michael Floyd, has played in a regular season game. The other, Eden Prairie grad Blake Sorensen, was released before the season started.
- See a breakdown of how different stars fared in the tables above.
It’s easy to write this off as just a quirk of Minnesota sports. We’re a hockey state, right? But Minnesota is actually middle of the pack in NFL players per capita.
No, this is a nationwide trend. In his book The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America, author Gregg Easterbrook breaks down the fate of players in the 2004 Army All-American Bowl—the nation’s premier high school football game. Of the 86 elite players on the roster, just 15 made it to the NFL—and only nine, including the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, became starters. The remaining 71 never received a paycheck from the NFL.
Not Quite Good Enough
By and large, these stars don’t implode from ego, indulgence, injury or other Hollywood tropes. They’re just outstanding high school athletes who become really good college players but aren’t quite fit for the pros.
Mounds View star and 2006 MVP Adam Weber had 1,913 passing yards in his senior year of high school and was ranked the 32nd best quarterback by Scout.com. At the University of Minnesota, he set a school record with 10,917 passing yards and 72 touchdowns. He was only the fifth quarterback in Big Ten history to have 10,000 passing yards.
Yet he saw no success in the NFL:
- Denver signed him as an undrafted free agent in July 2011, but the Broncos waived him during the final round of roster cuts and signed him to the practice squad.
- In November 2011, Denver promoted him to the active squad and he became the No. 3 quarterback—but he was released before the start of the 2012 season.
- He signed with Tampa Bay’s practice squad in September 2012 and signed a futures contract in January 2013. But the Buccaneers cut him in August.
Weber has never played in a regular season game.
Finding Success Elsewhere
This is not to say those who fall short of the NFL are failures. Far from it. Eagan star and 2002 MVP Jason Good earned All-American and Academic All-American honors at St. John’s University, and was part of the school’s 2003 championship team. Although his football career ended after he graduated, he’s now president at Intelligent Financial Strategies in Minnetonka.
But that just emphasizes the importance of a well-rounded experience early on. Only a select few student-athletes will reap dividends from a year-round focus on a single sport—a lone high school season during the school year followed by club teams in the off-season and drills in the summer. For the rest, a breadth of experience better prepares them for the unknown path that lies ahead.
So when Sunday rolls around, by all means cheer heartily for the well-deserving young man who showed such diligence in working toward that Mr. Football honor. But don’t forget to save some applause for the Triple "A" winners who shone in academics, arts and athletics; for the athletes who spent a little less time on the field to boost their grades; and even for the students cultivating their own unique interests outside the spotlight.
High schoolers may bump up against the limits of their football career all-too soon. But if they’ve had the right well-rounded preparation, their future will remain unlimited.