TROPHY CASE: Caledonia's Muenkel was unsung hero on '07 title team
Dan Muenkel was the leader of the offensive line and an unsung hero on Caledonia's 2007 state championship football team. He embodies everything that has made the Warriors a powerhouse in Minnesota high school football for nearly two decades.
Carl Fruechte was asked what will be his lasting memory of Dan Muenkel.
That’s an easy one for the 24th-year Caledonia head football coach. It’s the bear hug he received from Muenkel 13 years ago, and the elation they shared after experiencing one of the grandest days of their lives.
Muenkel played center, linebacker and defensive tackle for Fruechte’s 2007 Caledonia football team that won the Class AA state championship. It was the first of 10 state titles the Warriors have won under Fruechte.
Muenkel is now 31, lives a couple of blocks from Fruechte in Caledonia, works for the postal service in La Crosse and is married with two children.
If Caledonia had an unsung hero on that ’07 team, it was this guy. Muenkel was quiet, strong, tough and smart. And with no fanfare, he gave everything he had to that title team, clearing the way for Caledonia’s playmakers as a center and doing the same thing through the playoffs as a defensive tackle.
His work toward that title — like all of Caledonia’s players, and always behind the non-stop leadership of Fruechte — started about the time the previous season ended and didn’t stop until that November day when the state title was finally secured.
Early-morning trips to the weight room happened almost daily and year round. There was also sprint work to do and football refinement to learn as Fruechte built and continues to build football players and young men.
“It wasn’t hard to do the morning lifting, up at the school by 6:30 during the season, because we had a goal set and everyone was aiming to achieve it,” Muenkel said.
To the coach, there is no better example than Muenkel for what he was after that year and every year.
The 5-feet-10, 190-pounder was mostly a quiet leader, but a leader nonetheless with the way he kept showing up, kept performing, and knew his — and everybody else’s — assignments inside and out on the football field.
Simply, Muenkel wanted to do whatever he could to help the team achieve and cared not at all about ever getting a headline.
He just wanted to win and be a part of the team.
“I guess a good, unsung hero is someone who shows up every day and works hard regardless of whether people know you are making plays or not,” Muenkel said. “And he’s a guy who keeps doing that every week. And I guess he’s a guy one who every once in a while has a moment that you can’t forget.”
Was that you, Dan Muenkel?
“Um, yeah,” he said.
An emotional Fruechte had to collect himself as he considered his most lasting memory of Muenkel. His voice cracked and then tears came.
Fruechte recalled precisely what Muenkel did when it came to that state championship. His No. 1 remembrance is also vivid for Caledonia 2007 quarterback Kody Moore.
Moore is still hit with chills when he considers the final few seconds and then the aftermath of Caledonia’s 14-7 championship win over Luverne at the Metrodome.
The Warriors had pounded their way for an equal parts exhausting and exhilarating 10 minute, 26 second drive that sealed it, their Muenkel-led offensive line clearing path after path as Caledonia kept the ball exclusively on the ground that final march. They did that until the clock literally ran out.
As the final seconds ticked away and Moore took a knee, signifying the game’s end, the QB looked up and saw Muenkel sprinting toward that beloved head coach of theirs, Fruechte. Muenkel then grabbed Fruechte and wrapped him in a bear hug.
Moore will never forget that image. Never before or since has he seen grins as large and satisfied as the ones worn by those two as they stood wrapped in their championship embrace.
And Fruechte will never forget the words that then came from his unsung hero.
“That will always be my first memory of Dan,” Fruechte said. “I remember him (hugging me) and then telling me, ‘This is for everything you’ve done for us.’
“It was pretty special.”