Caledonia Football won its fifth consecutive Class AA State Championship title on Nov. 29, 2019, at U.S. Bank Stadium. It was the 68th consecutive win for the Warriors, the nation's longest win streak.
Winning is in the blood in Caledonia. They have captured 10 Prep Bowl titles in the last 14 years. But it wasn't always that way.
In fact, Caledonia won just one playoff game over a span of 15 years.
Mark Esch, former Mankato West head football coach, an assistant in the Prior Lake and Minnetonka programs in 2018 and 2019, was part of the past; a 1995 graduate of Caledonia High School.
Now he's written about the present: The Rise of the Warriors.
How was the transformation done? It started within the culture of the team, the school and the community. It was a change on the way things were being done. A positive shift that took put a small, southeastern Minnesota community on the map locally, and now nationally.
"It was a tougher culture then. There was a lot of drinking, drugs, and smoking and fighting, bullying and stuff. I saw my football coach Carl Fruechte take over the program in 1997 and slowly transform into what it is now. I looked at my wife and said someone should write about it. That's how a football coach becomes an author," Esch said.
Esch said he interviewed between 80 and 90 people for the book, including many alumni of the program, which has included a pair of NFL players and two United States Navy SEALs.
All agree, the change did not start on the football field, but in how the kids and their families viewed where they lived, where they went to school, and how they saw themselves as part of the community.
"The kids of the 80s and 90s are there today. The names are the same coming out today. The leadership just wasn't there. I think, we as coaches, and leaders in any area, if we're going to be leaders we have to care about people, and serve people. That's the story of Caledonia," Esch said.
Esch gives heavy credit to two of his former coaches, Mark Froehling, now a longtime head coach at Farmington High School, and Fruechte, current head coach, who has led the Warriors since 1997.
Froehling got the ball rolling while Esch was in high school. Fruechte has kept it going, stressing sacrifice, hard work, sacrifice and giving back to the community.
"Carl, and before him with Mark Froehling, they decided the No. 1 reason why they were doing what they were doing. And it wasn't winning. You may not know that with the program they have now but Carl and Mark decided they were going to invest in young men, teach them life skills and care about them and build relationships, but hold them accountable at the same time," Esch said.
"As a head coach for 11 years there were times I got caught up in winning, but it comes back to where these guys are going to be 5, 10, 20 years from now. Are they still in touch with you? Are you still an influence in their life? Mark Froehling was that guy for me. Same with Carl Fruechte," he added.
Rise of the Warriors is self-published by Esch and available currently through Amazon for $14.99. The foreword comes from Super Bowl champion and St. Paul native Matt Birk.
The first part of the book is a history of the Caledonia football program and the culture change that occurred. Part two of the book focuses on attributes that are present in all great teams, but Esch specifically relates these attributes to Caledonia football. However, these attributes can be applied to any area of life.
Esch believes the book can be applied to any area of life. Whether your a football coach, a football fan, a business leader, or a parent, the principles detailed ring true all the same.
"I feel like you get a blueprint in story form of what you can do as a football coach, a volleyball coach, a absketball coach, to transform your team. And that team can be any team. Whether you're a small business owner, a team leader, when these things are applied, they can make a difference," Esch said.
Esch was a guest on the SW News Media podcast, Sports 4 Dummies, on Jan. 17. The episode is available on all news websites including the Chaska Herald and Chanhassen Villager, as well as via download on ITunes.
In addition to talking about his book, Esch discussed about his coaching background, which included 11 seasons at Mankato West High School. His teams won eight section titles and two state championships.
Most recently, he was running backs coach at Minnetonka High School this past fall. He confirmed he did interview for the head coaching position with Dave Nelson retiring.
"I went through the process. It's a challenging field. I sat down with Ted Schultz (Minnetonka Athletic Director), and there's a lot of applicants. I'm going to do my best and be alright with whatever happens," Esch said.
If you haven't had a chance to listen to Sports 4 Dummies, we are in year No. 2 of producing weekly podcasts that focus on local area teams, as well as issues and stories that come up in sports. The podcast features sports editors Eric Kraushar (Chaska Herald/Chanhassen Villager), Dan Huss (Eden Prairie News), Tom Schardin (Prior Lake American/Savage Pacer), and Todd Abeln (Shakopee Valley News/Jordan Independent).
This week's podcast on Jan. 24 will feature two guests, David LaVaque and Loren Nelson, co-authors of Tourney Time, a book about 75 years of big names and memorable moments at the Minnesota State Boys Hockey Tournament.