Tuesday night marks the start of playoffs for high school football, which increasingly stands alone as a sport not offered year-round as other sports are through club teams and other organizations.
It's also the sport that draws the most participants -- about 26,000 last year -- although overall numbers are down from a year ago, according to Minnesota State High School League statistics.
More so than other sports with longer seasons and smaller rosters, football often has historically helped define a school's image for its student body and alumni. For top-tier athletes who are college prospects, it's the only time recruiters can see them perform in games.
Earlier this year, the Star Tribune posed a question to coaches:
"With the explosive growth of club sports, football has become the last sport in which the high school season is the lone outlet for competition. Does that make football any more important on the high school landscape?"
A sampling of responses:
Ray Betton, Holy Angels: "Nothing brings [a] community together like football."
Bill Weiss, Chisago Lakes: "Every game matters. You can't 'recreate' the atmosphere of a Friday night football game in a club sport."
Chad Sexauer, South St. Paul: "The school year often mirrors the type of football season you experience. Success on the field [equals] positive school atmosphere. Troubles on the field, troubles in the hallway."
Jon Young, Coon Rapids: "You put in so much time year-round for nine-plus games a year. Football is so popular because kids know they only get those few contests to compete in."
Patrick Krieger, Benilde-St. Margaret's: "Football allows for the multi-sport athlete, which makes us unique as a lot of other sports can play pretty much year-round."
Bob Jackson, White Bear Lake:
"It makes the high school coach the connection between the universities/colleges and their players. We still have control of our programs and not some third party."
Dave Nelson, Minnetonka: "The pressure comes from 'year-around' sports. Many athletes are led to believe that they must specialize in one specific sport."
Jeff Ferguson, Totino-Grace: "If anything, I think there is less pressure on football players; they can still play a winter sport and a spring sport and successfully play football. In many other sports, I think the 'pressure' is to choose."
Justin Johnston, Belle Plaine:
"I believe that football is the most pressure-packed season for athletes. The narrowing window for recruiting plus how Minnesota jams the season in instead of spreading it out more makes for a tough, short recruitment window."
Brian Vossen, Lakeville North: "Football seems to be the only sport not hell-bent on burning the young athletes out and as a result it will continue to be a special game for high schools."
Merrill Pavlovich, Delano: "Pressure by coaches to participate in their activity year-round places undue stress on the athletes. We encourage the football players to enhance their skills and strength only when they are not involved in another sport season."
Reed Boltmann, Edina: "The downfall of high school sports are the parents and coaches that tell these young men and women that they need to be a one sport 'elite' athlete in order to be successful."