If you've been looking for tangible proof of the message new Gophers coach Jerry Kill has preached – one backing change and cooperation – Saturday's Minnesota High School Football All-Star Game might be a good place to start.
It's not the game itself that provides the testimony. Saturday marks the 38th annual game and the 49th time overall it has been played since its inception in 1945.
The biggest change this year is the site: TCF Bank Stadium. The game is back at the University of Minnesota for the first time in 37 years.
With Kill's emphasis on connecting with state coaches, the time seemed ripe to build a bridge between the high school football community and the state's only Division I program.
"The thinking was that the time for change is when change is occurring," said Brainerd coach Ron Stolski, president of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association and one of the architects behind the revival of the game in 1974.
"We wanted to be [at TCF]. When the Gophers approached us, we said, 'Yeah!' That's where we wanted to be."
Stolski added that the move was not a reflection of unhappiness with St. Cloud State, home to the game since 2005, but rather a chance to create a little buzz.
"What a great opportunity this is," he said. "I talked to the players and told them about the great history of this university and the six national championships. I told them that they will be going to other schools, but this is special. This is their state university."
Players with scholarships to BCS conference schools do not participate in the game. Those who do likely didn't need Stolski's pep talk for motivation. At Wednesday's media day, anticipation was palpable.
"I just can't believe I'm here," said Rosemount defensive lineman Brandt Berghuis, who will give up football to throw discus and shot put at North Dakota State next year. "This place seems so much bigger when you're down on the field. It's just the coolest thing."
The game's other major change will be the organization of the teams. Gone is the Metro vs. Outstate format that had been in use since 1980. In an attempt to foster a more unified football community, the coaches association decided it was better to divide teams geographically, North vs. South.
The North team will be coached by Stolski, who owns the state record for career victories with 330. The South team will be headed by Minnetonka's Dave Nelson.
"The best piece of this game is the sociability of it," Stolski said. "The kids are learning about each other. Our thought that it would be special for someone from, say, Blaine, to be playing with someone from Mountain Iron-Buhl. Or someone from Wayzata to play with someone from Grand Rapids. We wanted to get the kids to be more cognizant of one another rather than establish some sort of city-kid, country-kid rivalry."
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, University of Minnesota
Tickets: $12 for adults; $5 for students; gates open at 5:30 p.m.