Cards send three more on to college football
Football players and coaches who build winning programs often talk about the culture within those teams as being like that of a family.
Members of the Alexandria program referenced that often in recent years. On Wednesday, three of the seniors from the 2017 team came together in front of their family and friends to sign their letter of intent as they committed to play football at the college level starting this fall.
"I wouldn't want to do this alone," Michael Empting said. "It's a lot more fun (signing) with other guys."
Empting will play collegiately at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. To his left was teammate Tyson Hoelscher, who will join Empting at the Division II level in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference at Minnesota State University-Moorhead. To their right was Cody Faber, who signed to play at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Empting took over at quarterback as a senior and threw for 1,536 yards and ran for another 955 on the way to 28 total touchdowns. The Minnesota Mr. Football Award finalist also played safety on defense the last two seasons, and that's where he said the Duluth coaching staff envisions him playing at the next level.
"I'll miss my years of carrying the ball and getting touchdowns, but I really feel comfortable at safety," Empting said. "That's where I feel like I'll be most successful at in college."
Empting said Minnesota-Duluth was a program that stood out from the beginning. The school hit all the marks academically, athletically and socially. He expects to redshirt in his first season.
"After that, I'll just work my butt off and try to get on the field any way possible," he said. "Starting on special teams and then hopefully get some defensive reps."
Moorhead likes Hoelscher's versatility
For Hoelscher, his decision came down to a matter of miles. He liked that Moorhead was within an easy drive of Alexandria so he could stay connected to friends and family.
"Obviously, with every school I had in mind the people there had to be right," Hoelscher said. "The coaches had to be right, but the biggest thing that separated Moorhead from other schools was the distance. I think it will be a good place for me to be."
Hoelscher played all over the field for Alexandria, something that stood out to college coaches. He lined up on the offensive and defensive line, even taking handoffs in the playoffs to give the Cardinals a power option in the run game. He said coaches have told him they do not want him to redshirt, so Hoelscher will head to Moorhead next fall to compete for a spot on the field.
"They're looking at me at tight end or full back," he said. "I think they want me to be a guy who can go from tight end, to the wing to split out. On all my visits, that's something all the coaches loved was that I could adapt and do a pretty good job at it."
Faber feels right at River Falls as he overcomes injury
Faber shares the same traits as Empting and Hoelscher in terms of his versatility.
He leaves Alexandria as the program's all-time leader in career receptions (88), even after moving to running back for much of his senior year after the Cardinals lost Chandler Cole to injury. Faber ran for 762 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall and caught 35 balls for 577 yards and five more scores.
"They said just like in high school, they want me to play as an athlete," Faber said of how the U-W River Falls coaches envision him in their program. "They see me at wide receiver, slot, running back."
Alexandria's chances of holding onto a lead in the section championship game against Brainerd dwindled when Faber went down with an injury, something he is still recovering from. He suffered a partial fracture and ruptured ligaments in his foot. He had surgery on Dec. 15 and is currently in a protective walking boot.
Faber said he was hearing from some Division II schools before deciding to play Division III.
"I felt like some schools stopped talking to me or were a little scared," he said of his recruitment after the injury. "I just wanted to play, I didn't care where. After the season ended, I went to visit River Falls in case DII didn't work out, and I liked it a lot."
Faber is currently doing some light physical therapy in his road to recovery from the injury.
"I'm in the boot for seven more days and then I can start doing more intense PT," he said.
He is confident in his ability to return to form and be the same player who had so many explosive plays for Alexandria the last two seasons.
"I have Scott Scholl here, and I think I'm going to be working with Brandon Strouth at Heartland (Orthopedic Specialists)," Faber said. "They're good at bringing athletes back to their fullest potential, like they were before the injury, so I don't see why I wouldn't be able to do that."