VIDEO: New look creates renewed excitement
The Alexandria football team wasn't content with looking at a 2-8 season in 2012 and chalking it up as just a result of being too young across the board.
The Cardinals had to play a lot of sophomores last year, especially on defense, but what the coaches found when they did an autopsy of their season is that things went deeper than that on the offensive side of the ball.
"One of the things I think we discovered offensively is teams have really kind of solved the riddle as far as what we were doing," head coach Mike Empting said. "When we would scout opponents ahead of time, they were running a particular defensive scheme and when they got to us they would run something completely different."
That prompted Empting and his staff to make a change for the 2013 season. Instead of the Wing-T, a ball-control system that relies on a strong ground game and the play-action pass, the Cardinals will feature a more open attack. Alexandria plans to go no-huddle the whole game this season with quarterback John Vogeler playing out of the shotgun. They will have some four and five-wide receiver sets, but also know it's almost impossible to keep a talent like senior tight end Aaron Steidl off the field.
The purpose of the switch is to give their athletes the best chance possible to make plays. Empting and Vogeler love the guys they have back at the skill positions. Now it is just a matter of giving them a chance to be playmakers by spreading the defense out and letting them work in space.
"I think the style of offense we're playing now is more fun for kids to play," Empting said. "It lets them be out there and lets them be athletes. It's not as constricting, I don't think. I think they are having fun doing it. The potential is definitely there."
BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER
That, coupled with the fact that these guys are now a year older, gives Alexandria the confidence that it can rebound from a losing season.
"I think we're pretty confident because we all know practice is going really well," Mitch Peck, a captain along with Vogeler, Steidl and Parker Bowden, said. "We lost a lot of the line but we have a lot of returning backfield guys that can learn and are figuring things out really well."
Peck will be the feature back this season and can expect a heavy workload after junior Jake Bear moved out of the area with his family in the off-season. Peck got his feet wet as a running back last year. For him and all the returning players, simply being on a varsity field was beneficial for their development.
"Probably for each and every one of us, it's just the experience," Vogeler said of what this team took from last year. "Just how fast it is on the varsity. Learning what to do at the varsity level and bringing all of that experience back this year."
Empting says most of the sophomores from a year ago are now almost 15 pounds bigger, along with the added speed and strength that comes with age and an off-season of workouts.
The last memory this team has from last season is of Moorhead's Chase Morlock running for more than 300 yards in a 48-14 playoff loss. Empting said they watched back that tape and saw that almost every time Morlock touched the ball, the Cardinals got solid contact on him at the line of scrimmage before he broke loose.
Coaches felt the scheme was working and the kids were playing it right. It's simply a matter of making the tackle when they have the chance to eliminate those big plays.
"You just got to get him down," Bowden said. "We have some new drills we're doing now that help us. I feel like another year will help with that and get our confidence boosted. It's just a matter of getting them down, and another year will help."
The area that took the biggest hit due to graduation is up front.
Alexandria lost basically everybody from its offensive line. Steidl is back and has the size and strength to help in run blocking and pass protection at tight end, but he will also be featured as a pass catcher after leading the team in receiving last year.
"We have to start over with pretty much everything," Steidl said. "All our seniors are gone, but we do have some strong kids, some younger kids who are a little inexperienced, but they're catching on quickly in practice. It's looking pretty good. We have some new schemes going, and they're figuring it out."
Empting said the new offense will help those guys by allowing them to use more double-teams. He feels they are strong up front, just not very big. How those guys gel on the offensive and defensive line will be an important part to watch early on this season.
"Still a big question mark is our offensive line and our defensive line," Empting said. "We graduated everybody and for us to go, those guys have to go."
Depth across the board will also be a concern with a lot of guys playing both ways. Keeping players healthy will be instrumental if the Cardinals are going to have a bounce-back season.
"We're going to have a lot of guys playing on both sides of the ball," Empting said. "And the feel that I got from the kids is they're pretty excited about it. They want to play. That's what I love about this group. These upperclassmen and even down to the freshmen, they just want to play the game."
PLENTY OF OPTIONS
It's a group that seems excited about getting this season going. Vogeler said he has never been so confident in a group of receivers than the guys he has to throw to now. He and Empting rattled off David Krivanek, Joe Gorghuber, Parker Revering, Bowden, Steidl and Riley Hvezda as players who can make a big difference in the passing game.
"It's like a puzzle," Vogeler said. "Each person is a piece to the puzzle. Aaron has his own thing that he does and that's awesome. He's a weapon that we have. Parker's a weapon. David's a weapon. There's just so many options to go to. It's not just one receiver I have to go to all the time. It could be any receiver. It's a wide open field."
There is a confidence within this group that they can rebound from a tough season with a new offense designed to let those athletes take advantage of their abilities.