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Alex coaches make a needed change

Losing in sports can be a vicious cycle that programs have a hard time getting out of when it becomes the norm.

It's easy enough as players and coaches at the high school level to chalk things up to not having enough talent. Credit the coaches in the Alexandria football program for not accepting that coming off a 2-8 record in 2012. These coaches believe they have talent to work with, so they put in some work this off-season to make sure they gave them the best chance to succeed.

Alexandria will open up the season tonight, Friday, in Moorhead in a revamped Central Lakes Conference and with a new look on offense. Head coach Mike Empting talked a lot last year about being young with a lot of sophomores and juniors playing big roles at the varsity level for the first time.

The Cardinals could have banked on the idea that simply being a year bigger, stronger and faster is all it would take to move things in the right direction this season. Instead, Empting and his staff admitted that the Wing-T offense, which has been effective for this program in the past, wasn't working anymore. Senior quarterback John Vogeler will lead a no-huddle offense out of the shotgun this year with multiple-receiver sets designed to spread the defense out.

Coaches devoted a lot of time to making this change. Empting said they attended clinics and talked to coaches all over from both the high school and college level, even contacting the offensive line coach at the University of Oregon to learn everything they could before they presented it to their players.

Empting said the kids have caught on pretty quickly through the early stages of practice.

I stopped by Citizen's Field to watch some of Alexandria's first full day in pads on August 15. Vogeler hit his receivers deep down the field and worked the ball around to a number of different guys.

"With the new offense, it's completely changed," Vogeler said that day. "It's going to be a good offense."

Empting believes it will allow the athletes on this team to make plays by letting them work in space. When you have a quarterback who can run and pass like Vogeler and speed guys like Mitch Peck in the backfield and others on the outside, you have to give them a chance to use that talent.

People might think of this as a pass-happy offense, but teams that use it well have plenty of success on the ground. Oregon, who is the blueprint for spreading opponents out and letting their athletes control the game, led Division I football in yards per rushing attempt in 2012 with an average of six yards per carry.

All these changes don't guarantee anything once Alexandria and Moorhead step on the field tonight. The Spuds are part of a new 12-team CLC with a North and South Division. Alexandria's schedule is difficult with good programs like Brainerd, Bemidji and Moorhead on their side of the league.

Will the Cardinals finish with a dramatically improved record this season? That remains to be seen, but Empting and his staff didn't sit by in the off-season and just hope that being a year older would lead to a different result from a year ago.

Instead, they admitted that the game is changing. Kids are getting more athletic every year. Even the best linemen are often as noted for their speed and athleticism as they are for how big they are.

"There comes a time when it might just be time to turn the page," Empting said during the first week of practice. "We've got the guys; just give them a chance to make plays."

Credit the coaches for making the necessary changes in an attempt to give the players the best chance to do that.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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