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Wayzata's wait for big moment hits a new high note

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 11/13/19, 5:59PM CST

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A 38-year-old Phil Collins song has returned to the Trojans’ pregame ritual, inspiring the state’s No. 1-ranked team as it plays this deep into November for the first time in seven years.


Wayzata running back Christian Vasser (4) said Phil Collins’ song “In the Air Tonight’’ brings out his team’s emotion and fight. “This is part of Wayzata’s culture,” he said. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky • aaron.lavinsky@startribune.com

Whether played from a cassette tape through a boom box, a compact disc through a stereo or from a smartphone through a portable speaker, the song “In the Air Tonight” has motivated Wayzata football players since its 1981 release.

The final moments before the 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium will continue the tradition. Coach Lambert Brown gathers his team in the locker room, shares a few words and then points at senior Max Grabowski. The lights go off. Grabowski hits play on his smartphone and the sounds of a synthesizer and drum machine fill the room.

Members of the top-ranked Trojans (11-0) will dial in for a Class 6A state tournament semifinal showdown with No. 2 Lakeville South (10-1) as Phil Collins sings of “waiting for this moment for all my life.” A once-dominant Wayzata program will have waited one day shy of seven full years since the last time the song was played this far into November.

At the 3:40 mark, the so far sparse, foreboding song reaches its climax, a thundering drum break famously pantomimed by the likes of Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield and former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson.

Players explode. They pound out the break on helmets, pads or lockers, then yell.

“It plays a big part in how we prepare for our games,” senior defensive lineman Joe Demro said. “When the beat drops, everybody starts making noise and gets hyped up.”

“Those last 30 seconds before the drums and all that, you start to feel a rush,” senior running back Christian Vasser said.

Demro and Vasser, two of the state’s finest players at their respective positions, engage in a tradition started by the class of 1982, which featured quarterback Brad Anderson.

“We selected that song to represent our team,” Anderson said. “To us, it was all about this moment in life.”

Anderson helped the 1981 Trojans win their first conference title in 30 years. He later coached the program to Prep Bowl titles in 2005, 2008 and 2010.

“There were times as a coach when I’d hear that song and for a brief moment thought I could suit up and play again,” Anderson said.

Former Wayzata linebacker James Laurinaitis kept playing “In the Air Tonight” as part of his pregame routine at Ohio State and in the NFL.

“It always brought me back to when football was it’s most pure,” Laurinaitis said. “It’s cool to know Wayzata players are still listening.”

The Trojans accidentally stopped two seasons ago. Lambert Brown, after one season as Anderson’s assistant coach and heir apparent, took over in 2017. As an assistant, however, Brown’s pregame role didn’t have him in the lockerroom.

A few weeks into Brown’s first season, long-time assistant coach Ryan Johnson asked about the traditional pregame song.

Uh, what traditional pregame song?

Oh, lord, Johnson thought.

Players without a bald Englishman on their playlist reacted the same.

“It grew on me and I started realizing this is part of Wayzata’s culture,” Vasser said. “It’s really good for us because it gets our energy pumping. It brings out a lot of emotion and a lot of fight.”

The emotions were clear last season, when members of the 2008 state championship team came back to be honored. They were welcomed into the locker room before the game. When the lights came back on, Johnson said, he saw tears in the eyes of several former players.

“People have asked why I didn’t bring it to Maple Grove but I always said, ‘It belongs in Wayzata,’ ” said Crimson head coach Matt Lombardi, Wayzata’s defensive coordinator for all three Prep Bowl titles. “It was so genuine that it wouldn’t be right.”

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