CALEDONIA, Minn. – When an offensive lineman challenges running back Matt Asiata to a bench-press contest, he doesn’t back down.
Especially if the lineman is in the eighth grade.
“I was trying to walk out to my car, and they said, ‘This guy wants to call you out.’ ” Asiata said. “I asked, ‘Who is he?’ And they said, ‘He’s an [eighth grader].’ I was like ‘All right.’ I didn’t want to back down to the challenge, so I did it.”
Just one talented member of the Caledonia football team, Matt Gavin and Asiata went to head-to-head, benching 250 pounds in the high school weight room Wednesday. Asiata did come out on top, but he was impressed with Gavin.
“I was worried at first when he called me out, because I thought he was going to lift like three plates or something like that,” Asiata said, laughing.
Asiata, along with teammates Charles Johnson and Caledonia native Isaac Fruechte, were part of a two-day Vikings Town Takeover to honor the community and its football team. The Vikings, together with Innovative Office Solutions, the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation and KFAN 100.3, recognized Caledonia as the inaugural Minnesota Football Program of the Year.
“It’s a tremendous honor, and hopefully [Caledonia] can contend for it next year,” Fruechte said. “Hopefully we can help set a standard of great programs, and hopefully teams around Minnesota can go higher than we have.”
In addition to the Vikings visitors, Caledonia received a $10,000 check for its football program from Innovative Office Solutions’ InSports Foundation, a youth football clinic led by former Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson, a luncheon for the community and a Touchdown Club fundraiser event. The festivities wrapped up with a school assembly Thursday morning, during which Asiata, Fruechte and Johnson opened up a Q&A and interacted with students.
“It’s been great,” Johnson said Thursday. “These guys welcomed us with open arms, and they’ve just been great people. It’s been fun interacting with some of the kids, meeting some of the people, taking pictures, kissing babies and getting some hugs. It’s been fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and hopefully they bring us back here sometime.”
In a town of just under 3,000, the Four Seasons Community Center attracted a record number of 300-plus luncheon guests. Most were draped in purple and gold, and all were there to welcome Fruechte as the hometown hero.
“This is my home and will always be my home, and I love coming back,” Fruechte said. The people are awesome. It’s been a joy to be here with Charles and Matt and everybody here – it’s been a lot of fun. It’s just another shining moment, I think, for the Vikings organization, and it’s been awesome.”
Lester Bagley, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development, was featured as a keynote speaker at the luncheon. InSports Foundation founder Max Smith also addressed the guests, and former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber emceed the event.
“It’s great to get the Vikings brand in outstate Minnesota,” said Bagley. “We have a great fan base throughout the state, but it’s a wonderful feeling to get the team out, and some of the players and the organization, to represent [the Vikings] and interact with our fans.”
After an undefeated 2015 season, the Class AA team brought home Caledonia’s sixth state title since 2007, posting a 113-6 record in the past nine seasons. Warriors Head Coach Brent Schroeder said the recognition from the Vikings is extremely special.
“It’s just a good representation of our great community, the hard work of the kids and the coaching staff that’s been here for [up to] 20 years,” Schroeder said. “It’s very humbling, and we’re just very thankful that they took a look at us.”
Caledonia High School Superintendent Ben Barton said the football team’s success is not a fluke.
“It’s humbling. We know there are lots of other well-deserving programs across the state, but we know we’re very deserving too,” Barton said. “I think what the football team does is a good example of what happens in all areas of our community, and that’s just the recipe for success: work hard.”
“Just having Isaac up there today, he’s a great illustration of that whole idea of ‘work hard, be humble, persevere through adversity, and eventually that’s going to pay off for you in life.’ ”
Fruechte is a revered name throughout the Caledonia community, and it’s not just Isaac. His father, Carl Fruechte, became head coach 1997 and still remains heavily involved with the football program. While Carl has six state championships to hang on his belt, anyone who knows him will tell you he’s the definition of humility.
“When you have the NFL team in Minnesota recognize you – that means a lot to us,” Carl said. “I’ve gotten to get real close with the Vikings organization obviously, and I’m just really impressed with their humility, how they really care about the State of Minnesota and [its] football community.”
The Fruechte influence is widespread. Former Mayor Bob Burns led the Caledonia community for 21 years, and he’s seen the impact that both Carl and Isaac have had.
“Coach Schroeder and Coach Fruechte dedicate a tremendous amount of time to the program,” Burns said. “Isaac was a great athlete as far as Caledonia was concerned, he was a great athlete as far as the University of Minnesota, and now as an [undrafted free agent] for the Vikings. It’s been a tremendous achievement on his part, and he’s also a great role model for the young people of Caledonia.”
Asiata, Fruechte and Johnson spent time with some of those young fans while helping Henderson with two football clinics before capping off the night with a Caledonia Touchdown Club Fun Night at Ma Cal Grove Country Club.
Touchdown Club President Greg Hoscheit said the recognition will reach so much further than the two-day event.
“It’s a big honor for a couple of reasons,” Hoscheit said. “Caledonia’s had a lot of success both on the field and off the field, and it’s not just about the success of the ‘W’s’ – it’s the life experiences this creates for not only our kids but the community. Every one of these football games, whether they’re local or up in the cities, is a way for the community to gather. It’s a really big thing for these kids and for the town.”
The players joined mascot Viktor the Viking and Vikings Cheerleaders in signing autographs for fans at the Fun Night, and the combination of a silent and live auction of Vikings items raised an additional $5,075 for the Caledonia football program.
“I was astonished at just how many community members and students came out [for the fundraiser],” Schroeder said. “It’s just really overwhelming, and we just want to thank the Vikings for the extra support and the extra boost that it gave our Touchdown Club and our football program. We hope to put that to some good use – really support some young kids and keep the game of football alive.”