GRAND MEADOW — The DMV was taking forever. So Landon Jacobson shot a local reporter a quick text: “I’ll call you as soon as I can.”
“Dude, the DMV is the worst haha,” the reporter responded.
Ninety minutes later, Jacobson finally escaped the DMV’s clutches. He slipped into his car, called the reporter and put the phone on speaker.
Jacobson began to drive as he was asked to go down memory lane to a time when life was easier, the trips to the DMV were less frequent and when a dynasty was born.
Jacobson laughed when he thought about his introduction to Grand Meadow football. He was too big to play running back in those days. So he was playing offensive line and defensive line.
In sixth grade, Jacobson’s team only lost one game and played in the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
But in seventh grade, Jacobson graduated from the youth program and could finally become a running back. In a preseason scrimmage, he got a taste of being a tailback. The first two times he touched the ball, he scored.
“Things changed and there was no going back,” Jacobson said. “I wasn’t an offensive lineman anymore.”
There was a storm brewing.
Veteran Grand Meadow coach Gary Sloan had engineered the Superlarks to a 10-win season in 2009 and a trip to the Nine-Man state tournament. In 2010, a young freshman named Trenton Bleifus made an appearance and started to get his feet wet at quarterback. But the Superlarks fell to Glenville-Emmons 14-13 in the Section 1 semifinals.
“We could see that a good run was coming,” Sloan said. “But we could never predict something like this.”
• • •
Jacobson and Bleifus were always tied at the hip. Jacobson was the running back and star linebacker for the Superlarks. Bleifus played quarterback and safety. They joked that they spent “26 hours a day together” during high school.
As the calendar flipped to 2011, Jacobson entered his freshman season and Bleifus was a sophomore and the starting quarterback. Jacobson was the first freshman that Sloan ever trusted to return kicks and punts.
Jacobson and Bleifus were getting bigger and stronger. Grand Meadow’s weight training throughout the offseason was like no other. They were fanatics, constantly attacking the weight room.
“The first thing that jumped out was we were so physical and so strong compared to people we played against,” Sloan said. “That’s a reflection on how much effort the kids put in during the weight room (sessions). That was super cool to us and the other coaches. We didn’t have to push the kids to do that.”
That 2011 squad was talented. Rich Bain anchored a small but tough senior crew. Junior Perry Stejskal was a standout running back and linebacker. But injuries decimated Grand Meadow. Depth is everything in football, especially in Nine-Man football.
Grand Meadow wanted to run and run and run the ball that season. And it ended up scoring more than 30 points in six of its eight wins.
The only problem was that Spring Grove was in the same section. Spring Grove rolled past Grand Meadow in the regular season 41-12. Then, in the rematch in the Section 1 championship game, Spring Grove shut out the Superlarks 28-0.
“That year didn’t pan out the way we wanted to,” Jacobson remembered. “There were so many injuries and we didn’t have a complete team. We went 8-3 that year. But it was the end of that. After that, we went booming.”
• • •
Jacobson grew two inches and put on more than 30 pounds in between his freshman and sophomore seasons. He came back as a 5-foot-9, 170-pound bowling ball. He had a rare combination of brute strength and lightning-fast speed.
Bleifus was a junior and was coming into his own as the starting quarterback. Yes, the Superlarks were going to run the ball, but Bleifus was talented at throwing the ball. He had weapons, too. Collin Jacobson was a standout tight end, 6-foot-6 senior Bryce Benson was a matchup nightmare, and so was 6-foot-5 tight end Wes Ojulu.
Landon Jacobson and Bleifus were a two-headed monster in the backfield. When senior Perry Stejskal returned from an injury just in time for the playoffs, he made the offense even more dangerous.
Grand Meadow blitzed its way through the regular season with its only loss coming at the hands of rival Spring Grove, 22-20. But Grand Meadow got its revenge in the Section 1A final when it dominated Spring Grove 25-6. Bleifus passed for three touchdowns and ran for another score, while the Grand Meadow defense bottled up standout Spring Grove running back Josh Olerud.
That set up a trip to the state quarterfinals against a loaded Mountain Lake Area team. MLA was led by quarterback Carter Kirk, who was a stood 6-foot-7 and weighed 220 pounds.
But yet again, the small but mighty Superlarks weren’t scared.
Bleifus connected with Benson and Collin Jacobson for two early touchdowns. Landon Jacobson rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown. When Kirk rallied Mountain Lake Area late with a 29-yard touchdown pass to get within one score, Bleifus recovered an onside kick and put the nail in the coffin with an eight-yard touchdown run.
“Indescribable,” Jacobson said. “It was the most fun I had up until that point.”
In the semifinals, the Superlarks dismantled South Ridge 61-6. They advanced all the way to the state title game before falling to Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 40-22.
“That was the best team we ever went against, that Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley team," Jacobson said. "We were hyped up but we were definitely the underdogs for sure. When that came across as a loss, that was tough. But we knew the years to come were going to be special.”
Still, after advancing all the way to the state title game, there was a little trepidation for Sloan. That 2012 team was talented and deep and it came up just short.
“I think that 2012 team doesn’t really get recognized as it should,” Sloan said. “That was a really good group dominated by 10 seniors. Even though they weren’t able to get their ultimate goal, they set the standard and set the tone for the younger guys.
“I remember thinking that we needed to get something done with that 2012 run, because we only had three seniors coming back for 2013."
• • •
As Bleifus prepared for his senior year, he was confident in his own abilities. He had a tremendous junior year, Jacobson was coming back for another big run and Isaac Tangen was a lynchpin of both the offensive and defensive lines.
But there was still some fear. Before the season, a reporter asked Bleifus his thoughts about the season. Bleifus was always cordial and honest with the media. Seventeen of the 26 players on the team were underclassmen. The Superlarks were young and had to replace a ton of starters.
“The state championship is always our goal but with a young team, I hope we make it through the section finals,” Bleifus told the reporter. “We were so young. It could be a little hairy.”
Somewhat surprisingly, 2012 got off to a great start. The Superlarks dominated their first five opponents. They put up at least 47 points in the first five games and their average margin of victory was 35.6 points.
Then a trip to Lanesboro changed the entire season.
Bleifus and Jacobson had been an outstanding duo in the offensive backfield. On defense, Jacobson was the star linebacker and Bleifus played safety, lining up 15 yards off the ball.
“He was our MVP that year,” Jacobson said, “so the coaching staff didn’t want him to get injured playing defense.”
It was raining heavily on that Friday night in Lanesboro and lightning forced a delay. The Superlarks weren’t playing well on Friday, but they came back on Saturday thinking they could right the ship.
They were wrong.
They couldn’t stop Lanesboro’s star running back Niko Anderson, who finished with 24 carries for 243 yards and five touchdowns.
Bleifus threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns, while Jacobson added two rushing touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Bleifus was angered and frustarted. He didn’t want to play safety anymore. He wanted to be up in the action at linebacker.
“We were just in slump mode, and we weren’t playing well,” Bleifus remembered. “If everything could’ve gone wrong, it went wrong.”
"We thought our dreams were ruined,” wide receiver Michael Stejskal said. “We kind of got in over our heads. We thought we were going to steamroll everyone. After that, we realized that it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Sloan was tough on his players. He was there to win, not to stroke egos. But he created a culture that was formed around hard work and dedication. So when Bleifus or Jacobson disagreed with a personnel/coaching decision, the coaches listened. It created a form of accountability for the players and the coaching staff.
“We all wanted the same thing,” Jacobson said. “We were in it together.”
Bleifus pleaded to move to linebacker. The coaches listened.
“It was a gut-check,” Bleifus said. “We were on fire after that. That was one of the best losses Grand Meadow has had. Maybe ever.”
The defensive problems were solved. Bleifus and Jacobson were as good of a duo at linebacker as they were in the offensive backfield. They shut everything down. They held a high-powered Spring Grove offense to just seven points the following week. Lyle/Pacelli had put 30 points up on the 'Larks in the season-opener but it could only manage 12 in the season finale.
In the Section 1A semifinals, Bleifus and the Superlarks got a rematch with Lanesboro. This time, it was a completely different game. Grand Meadow romped to a 35-6 victory and clinched a state berth with a dominant 31-14 win over No. 1 Spring Grove in the Section 1A final.
“After we beat Spring Grove, the same reporter came up to me and said, ‘Well, you got through the Section, are you happy with your goal?’” Bleifus said. “I was like, ‘No. We’re going with the big one.’”
Kirk and Mountain Lake Area stood in their way again. And yet again, the Superlarks were undeterred.
On the opening kickoff of the state quarterfinals, Jacobson flew down the field and popped the Mountain Lake Area return man.
“(Jacobson) got right in my face and goes, ‘We’re winning by 20,’” Bleifus said.
He wasn’t almost correct.
Jacobson rushed for 194 yards and the offensive line — made up of sophomore tight end Connor Hartson, junior Wyatt Richardson, Tangen, junior right guard Jordan Miland and Cody Ojulu — dominated the line of scrimmage. Bleifus connected with Michael Stejskal and Blake Olson for two beautiful touchdown passes as Grand Meadow surged into the state semifinals for the second year in a row with a 35-18 win.
“Landon is a stud,” Bleifus said. “He ran so hard. We were lights-out that day.”
The Superlarks took care of business against a tough Kittson County Central team with a gritty 21-7 in the semifinals to reach the state title game.
One year earlier, they had made it all the way to the state championship game only to get handed an 18-point loss by Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley. The Superlarks vowed that this time was going to be different.
Isaac and Trent Tangen delivered two huge defensive plays with a blocked punt and a recovered fumble which helped Grand Meadow jump out to a 13-0 lead. Jacobson rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown. The defense was stingy, and Bleifus threw for 111 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 83 yards and two more touchdowns in his final game.
As the clock ticked down to three zeros, Bleifus and Jacobson had a long embrace. They had finally done it. Grand Meadow was a state football champion for the first time in school history.
“After we won, it was like a town celebration,” Jacobson said. “It wasn’t just us winning state. It was everybody forever, former players too, winning state. It was a great day. It was a great time. It was the best day.”
It may not have happened without that loss in Lanesboro, one that Sloan doesn’t let Bleifus forget about seven years later.
“He still brings it up to me,” Bleifus said. “Him and I are golfing together and he’ll go, ‘Bleifus, remember when you were being a baby in Lanesboro?’”
• • •
Even though Bleifus had graduated, the Superlarks came into 2014 with sky-high expectations. Michael Stejskal was taking over as the quarterback and Jacobson was back at running back. Many of the young players in the program were suddenly not youngsters anymore.
Sophomores Blake Benson and Chris Bain had stepped up on both sides of the ball. Jacobson and the offense put up huge numbers in 2014, but it was the defense that stole the show. Connor Hartson, Jordan Miland, Cody Ojulu, Blake Olson and Stejskal were all standouts. Jacobson led the team in tackles. Wyatt Richardson was a three-year starter.
“A lot of people talk about our offense, but our defense was great,” Michael Stejskal said. “We were so physical. Even though we might not have been as big as some teams, we were really physical. And that’s because of the coaching. The coaches always had us play physical and that led us to our success.”
The 2014 version of Grand Meadow football was one of the most dominating things the state had ever seen. It blitzed its way to 14 consecutive wins and a state title. The Superlarks’ toughest game came in Week 2 against — who else? — Spring Grove, but Jacobson’s three touchdown runs helped the Superlarks eke out a 20-18 win.
The 'Larks defense was dominant, though, allowing just 82 points all season. It pitched four straight shutouts on its way to a state championship. The Superlarks dominated Spring Grove in the Section 1 final, and then blew out Underwood (20-0), Kittson County Central (49-0) and Edgerton/Ellsworth (48-0) in the state tournament.
“We had some really good games with Spring Grove,” Sloan said. “We played them in the section championship like six years in a row. We played them in the regular season, too. We were fortunate enough to win almost all of those games. We had some great battles with them. There were a couple years where if we hadn’t won the section championship and they had, they would’ve won the state championship.
"We feel like we always made some good adjustments for that second game. We did something better on offense or defense. Spring Grove was always a potent team. We were able to hold them down in the playoff games more than we were in the regular season and that always led to success.”
• • •
Jacobson finished his career with two state titles and a state runner-up finish. He finished with his name all over the Grand Meadow record book, including 96 career rushing touchdowns. He was named third-team All-State after his dominant senior year.
But he’s remembered as much more than just a running back. By the time he hit his senior year, Jacobson was putting up incredible numbers on the field and in the weight room, bench-pressing 370 pounds. And he had someone keeping an eye on him, trying to emulate his work ethic and his ability to scamper away from defenders and also pound them in-between the tackles.
Chris Bain was a freshman when Jacobson was a junior, but they knew each other long before high school. Jacobson remembers watching Bain play as a little kid. There was something special there.
He knew that Bain could be the next big thing in Grand Meadow football. So, he decided to help him out as much as he could.
“He was such a nice guy, so I wasn’t really intimidated at all,” Bain said. “He was always there trying to help, so it made the transition up easier. It was very reassuring because then I felt more confident in playing and knowing what I was supposed to do.”
Bain’s goal was to break Jacobson’s touchdown record and bench more weight than him, too.
So even though Jacobson graduated and headed to play football at Winona State, the 2015 version of Grand Meadow looked awfully familiar. Bane teamed up with Zach Mhyre and Michael Stejskal to form a three-headed monster in the backfield, and the defense was going to continue to be tough and well-coached.
Bain was a standout at linebacker and running back. He was Stejskal’s favorite target in the passing game, too.
“He was my most reliable guy,” Stejskal said. “He had sticky hands, and whenever we needed a big play, he was the guy to do it. He’d jump over players and do ridiculous things.”
Bain never was big on hyping himself up. Instead, he pointed to the huge plays that Mhyre and Stejskal would deliver that would take some pressure off him. Or he'd mention his offensive line, who might have been a bit undersized but were terrific at using their angles and techniques.
“Our offensive line was so underrated,” Bain said. “They did what they needed to do every game. They never got any of the hype or any of the credit. They should’ve gotten a lot more.”
But Sloan says that the 2015 team really stood out to him the most because of its unwillingness to lose. The Superlarks battled injuries all year long. They dominated the first seven games of the regular season, but No. 2 Spring Grove stood in their way of a perfect regular season.
Bain scored all three touchdowns in that regular-season finale and the defense blocked an extra point to give Grand Meadow a 21-20 lead. Then, Stejskal picked off a pass with 18 seconds left to seal the victory. When the teams matched up yet again in the Section 1 championship game at RCTC, the Superlarks were ultra confident and rolled to a 35-7 win.
“Our biggest rival to me was Spring Grove,” Bain said. “ Just to make it out of our section to make it to the state tournament, we had to beat them twice. Those games were so tough. They played us so well. I feel like they were just physical and they had a lot of tough athletes, too.”
In the state semifinals, Grand Meadow found itself trailing for the first time all season. Waubun used a deceptive option attack to take an early 14-7 lead. But Stejskal stepped up late in the first half and connected with Wes Ojulu for a nine-yard touchdown strike, and Bain and Myhre delivered the knockout blows in the second half of a 35-20 win.
That put Grand Meadow back in the state title game for the fourth year in a row.
“That was one of my favorite games ever,” Myhre said. “The atmosphere there was crazy. We went into halftime tied. We came out of the locker room and just played so well. That was one of the best second-halves we ever played.”
• • •
The 2015 Prep Bowl was something made out of story books.
For the third year in a row, Grand Meadow was matched up against a big Underwood team. It had multiple 300-pounders on its offensive and defensive lines and a pair of 265-pounders.
But where Underwood had size, Grand Meadow had speed.
Underwood knew that Bain and Myhre were the go-to players of the Grand Meadow offense. But they forgot about Stejskal's accurate arm.
“We made teams think that we couldn’t pass so that when we did, we’d catch them off guard,” Stejskal said. “When we needed to pass, we could.”
Stejskal engineered Grand Meadow’s come-from-behind championship victory. He passed for 218 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown, including a back-breaking 71-yard run in the fourth quarter to ice the victory.
“Hands-down one of the best days of my life,” Stejskal said. “My grandpas, my dad, my two older brothers. That’s all we cared about: Football. We played baseball and basketball but what we really cared about was football. It just meant so much to our family.”
“The 2015 team had lots of injuries, but one thing that stands out was that team played with so much heart and so much determination,” Sloan added. “They refused to lose. Even though we were giving up a ton of size, they didn’t quit.”
That made it three state titles in a row. Grand Meadow got a fourth in 2016 as it vanquished every single team on its schedule. Its closest contest was a two-touchdown win over Spring Grove.
Bain was a Mr. Football finalist and he scored a touchdown in the state All-Star game. He never could catch Jacobson’s 370-pound bench press, but he did pass him for career touchdowns. Bain rushed for 41 touchdowns in 2016 and finished with 99 career touchdowns.
Myhre, Blake Benson and Connor King were all named to the 2016 All-Area team. The seniors graduated with four state championships, a 50-game winning streak and a career 55-1 record.
“I’ll remember it forever,” Myhre said. “Looking back on it now, not many kids get to ever experience that and we got it a few years in a row. We sit down and we’ll still be talking about it. Like, ‘Dang wish we could go back and do it all over again.’”
• • •
The string of state championships finally came to a close in 2017. After years of getting handed gut-wrenching losses, Spring Grove finally broke through and beat Grand Meadow twice, then rolled all the way to a state title.
Grand Meadow’s 51-game winning streak still stands as a school record. It might not ever be topped.
Trenton Bleifus and Landon Jacobson are still best friends to this day. Their families are tight.
Grand Meadow football is in the Stejskal family’s blood. Zach Myhre and Chris Bain still talk football whenever they see each other.
Sloan still golfs with his former players and talks to as many as he can. The run that Grand Meadow went on is special.
When Bleifus, Jacobson, Myhre, Bain and Stejskal were kids, they dreamed of running out onto Grand Meadow’s field and winning state championships.
But every little kid has that dream. Not many of them actually get to live it. Grand Meadow got to live it.
Bleifus called Sloan and his three assistants — Aaron Myhre, Anthony Stejskal and Deke Stejskal — the “four smartest football guys he’s ever seen.”
A number of Grand Meadow stars went onto play college football, but the results there could never match winning state high school championships with the friends they grew up with.
“You’re playing with your brothers and your best friends,” Jacobson said. “You’re playing for your town. You know everyone in the stands. It’s really amazing. Not everybody gets to experience that.”
Jacobson pauses as he talks. The memories just keep flooding back into his mind. They’re all good. They’re special. They’re unique. They’re everlasting.
“I haven’t talked about that in a really long time,” Jacobson says. “That was really fun.”
A whole lot more fun than the DMV.