There is a historic connection to Minnesota high school football that appears to be taking place with the San Francisco 49ers. And to their credit, this did not escape the attention of the home-state Vikings.
Trey Lance, four years after graduating from Marshall High School in southwest Minnesota, was emphatically pronounced by coach Kyle Shanahan to be the 49ers starting quarterback in late July.
Three weeks later, the 49ers were in Minnesota for two days of competitive activities vs. the Vikings, before the teams played an exhibition game at the ZygiDome.
As was publicized, the Vikings marked the occasion by inviting Marshall’s veteran coach, Terry Bahlmann, his staff and 105 players to Eagan to take in a day of the workouts.
“We were all excited, with the chance to see Trey, with the way the Vikings hosted us,” Bahlmann said. “I think the kids are still excited. We’ve seen a lot of 49ers colors with our players and around town.
“Trey has a chance to become one of the faces of the NFL — from right here in Marshall.”
There was just a splash of cold water placed on the Lance phenomenon Monday, when the 49ers announced a deal to bring back 30-year-old incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo to serve as the 49ers’ second quarterback.
The alleged reason for Garoppolo’s return, at a reduced salary and with a right to approve any trade, was the 49ers’ inability to find a trade partner because of his offseason shoulder surgery.
There were some 49ers media immediately repeating the 49ers party line: “Bringing back Garoppolo doesn’t change the commitment to Lance.”
Even if that’s the whole truth, the presence of Garoppolo greatly increases the pressure on Lance with the fan base.
He’s still a novice — drafted at age 20, after one championship season (16 games) and then one game in the spring of COVID at North Dakota State — and the throwing mechanics aren’t exactly smooth.
My guess is the 49ers drafted Lance third overall (and as the third quarterback) because they saw the next Lamar Jackson, meaning:
Erratic but fast, powerful and highly competitive, can break down a defense.
I was talking with Matthew Coller, owner and reporter for Purple Insider, and his view on Lance from the Eagan workouts was this:
“The guy is huge. Not as big as [Daunte] Culpepper, but almost as imposing. He’ll have some erratic days, but I think he’s going to be OK.”
If a couple of clunkers come back to back, the 49ers will either succumb to the fans’ howls and go to Garoppolo, or they can remind the howlers that Josh Allen was a danger to cheerleaders on the sideline with his throws in his first season as a 12-game starter in Buffalo, and things are working out OK for the Bills.
Certainly, Minnesota high school coaches will be rooting for this quarterback who played in their annual All-Star Game to become a real deal in the NFL.
The last Minnesota high schooler to start games in an NFL regular season as a quarterback was Todd Bouman — from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, 24 miles from Marshall. He started seven games in the first decade of the 2000s.
Two Cretin-Derham Hall quarterbacks, Steve Walsh and Chris Weinke, preceded him. Walsh had 38 regular-season starts (and an unforgettable 35-18 win in the Dome for the Bears in a 1994 season playoff game). Weinke had 20 starts, after playing baseball and not starting his NFL career until age 29.
Walsh was taken by Dallas as the first pick in a “supplemental” draft, after the regular draft was held in 1989.
As for first-rounders in the real draft for Minnesota high schoolers, Lance shares the high selection at No. 3 with wide receiver (and Hall of Famer-to-be) Larry Fitzgerald Jr. to Arizona in 2004.
Clayton Tonnemaker, legendary Gophers lineman from Minneapolis Edison, went No. 4 to Green Bay in 1950, when the NFL was a 13-team league.
Since then, these have been the Minnesota high schoolers taken in the first round (best I can tell going through seven decades of drafts):
Linemen Lloyd Voss (Magnolia), Gale Gillingham (Little Falls), John Alt (Columbia Heights) and Frank Ragnow (Chaska); linebacker Tom Ruud (Bloomington Jefferson); running back Darrell Thompson (Rochester John Marshall); and receiver Michael Floyd (Cretin-Derham Hall).
And then, in April 2022, defensive end Jermaine Johnson II from Eden Prairie was taken No. 26 by the Jets.
We don’t get many first-rounders, and certainly not No. 3s to play quarterback, so take it and run with it, young Mr. Lance.
This is more than Marshall Pride. This is Minnesota high school football pride.