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Considering what Jacob Kilzer endured in 2022, anything less than a state championship would have been a tragic letdown.

Maple Grove's senior quarterback piloted the Crimson's 13-0 journey through the minefield that is Class 6A to the first football title in program history.

He did it despite torn labrums in both of his shoulders. And he never missed a start.

For his determination and his success, Kilzer is the 2023 All-Metro Sports Awards Courage in Competition winner.

Kilzer knew from the outset his senior season might be rocky. He had torn the labrum in his left shoulder during his junior year and wasn't planning on surgery until the 2022 season was over.

Then Kilzer — known for his strong arm — tore the labrum in his right shoulder, his throwing shoulder, while doing a tackling drill at a junior camp at North Dakota State.

The next week, when Maple Grove made its yearly pilgrimage to South Dakota State for a week of summer workouts, the injury to his right shoulder made itself known.

"We went out to warm up and I could only throw the ball, like, 2 yards," Kilzer recalled. "I was scared every day that I wouldn't be able to play."

Doctors recommended surgery, but the recovery time was too long. He'd miss the football season.

There was another option: physical therapy alongside a lengthy daily warmup session. The question: How much pain was he willing to endure? His answer: "I didn't want to miss my senior year."

Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi was aware that Kilzer, his father and their doctor had devised a plan to keep Jacob playing.

"We knew there was a strategy to fix [his injuries] after the season to get him ready for college football [after determining no further damage could be done]," Lombardi wrote in a text message. "I did cut back on his throwing to take care of him. I think only about half our games he had over 10 throws. Knowing Jacob and the big-picture talks I had with his doctor, I had total confidence in him."

Getting ready to play was a rigorous routine for Kilzer.

"It took a full 20 minutes of throwing and getting in a groove before I felt ready to play. It was definitely painful at first," he said. "The worst was when it was cold. It took forever to warm up."

In the Crimson's third game, against Minnetonka, Kilzer's body threw him another curveball. His left shoulder popped out of joint.

"I got to the sidelines and it was still popped out," he said. "My dad came down and was there with me. We popped it back in and wrapped it up. It hurt so bad, but we were losing at the time and I had to get back in. After that, it popped out pretty much every game."

The Crimson rallied for a 41-27 victory, and Kilzer accounted for five touchdowns — one passing and four rushing.

That pattern continued. His throwing limited, the 6-3, 195-pound Kilzer became a weapon in the running game, rushing for a team-high 1,273 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-Metro selection.

Running comes with its own punishment. Kilzer embraced it. "I wanted that state championship," he said.

What he didn't want was for his injuries to become common knowledge, fearing college coaches might shy away. There was a balance to that. "At the same time, I kind of wanted them to know that I could be better if I wasn't injured," he said.

In the Class 6A championship game, Kilzer passed for 130 yards and a touchdown, a 45-yard pass to Jacob Anderson in the second quarter that put Maple Grove on top for good. He rushed for two more scores, helping the Crimson defeat Rosemount 27-10.

"It was all worth it to win a state championship," Kilzer said. "We have been talking about that since we were little."

In late January, Kilzer accepted an offer to play at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He believes the offer might not have come without his injury because "they're a heavy running team and it showed them I can pass AND run."

He has since had surgery on both shoulders and recently was cleared to begin throwing.

Looking back, Lombardi is even more impressed with Kilzer's senior season than he was when it was happening.

"He will always be at the top of my Mount Rushmore for players I've ever coached at Maple Grove," Lombardi said. "It's like he did the Michael Jordan flu game for an entire year. Unreal."
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Special celebration

The Star Tribune's sixth annual All-Metro Sports Awards show will be held June 28, and this year's event will be at Target Center. The winners of 10 special AMSA honors will be introduced, capping an evening of celebrating outstanding student-athletes and those who support them. The public is welcome to join the celebration, and tickets for the event are available at startribune.com/amsa.

More All-Metro Sports Awards coverage can be found at startribune.com/preps.