Alexandria football ready to play on new field with new faces

The Alexandria football team will be getting a lot of "firsts" out of the way when the Cardinals open up the season against Moorhead at home on August 29.

Alexandria linebacker Justin Cumberbatch gets low on defense as he prepares to drive through a tackle during a defensive drill at the Cardinals’ football practice on Wednesday. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria football team will be getting a lot of “firsts” out of the way when the Cardinals open up the season against Moorhead at home on August 29.

Not only will that day feature the much-anticipated first football game in their new home at Alexandria Area High School, but for a lot of these players it will be their first expanded role at the varsity level.
That’s especially true on offense where the Cardinals lost starters at almost every skill position last year, including quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Tight end Travis Krueger is the senior veteran of those skill-position players who saw a lot of time on the field in 2013.
“He’s really the only skill guy we have back,” head coach Mike Empting said. “On the defensive side we have some more veterans back there and that’s evident early on here. Our linebackers and defensive backs are looking pretty good.”

The defensive side of the ball is where Empting said the strength will be for this group, especially at those linebacker and secondary positions.
Joe Gorghuber and Parker Revering have been playing varsity since their sophomore seasons and are locked in at the safety positions. Revering is making the move to free safety after playing as a linebacker over the last couple years.
The linebackers have the potential to be a strong unit with hard-hitting Justin Cumberbatch manning the middle after winning a wrestling state title at 195 pounds. Nick Partington comes back with experience, while Grant Hockert is making the move to linebacker after playing some offensive line on varsity a year ago. The Cardinals will be new at the cornerback positions, but Empting likes the athleticism of the juniors who will compete there.
“I think for sure,” Gorghuber said when asked if the defense has to set the tone for this team to be successful. “I think the offense will bring a lot of great things, but I think defensively, that’s going to be our main strong suit. I think every game kind of starts off on the defensive side. We have a lot of returning guys so I think we’re going to be solid on that end.”

The Cardinals will hand the offense over to a talented sophomore this season as Jaran Roste gets set to take over at quarterback.
He is replacing two-year starter John Vogeler, who is in his first season at Bemidji State University this fall. Roste has the measurables to play the position – he’s already 6’2” and 195 pounds.
He can do things with his legs and his arm like a coach wants to have in a spread offense. Now it’s just a matter of getting his feet wet.
“I talked to our seniors about this,” Empting said. “Usually you look to your quarterback to be the leader on the offensive side and that might be something he grows into. I think at first, our offense, in particular our seniors, are going to have to rally around him. I expect Jaran to grow into that leadership role, but I don’t know if it will happen right out of the gate. He’s a good athlete and he’s got the skills to play the position for sure. I think leadership will come.”
Roste said it’s been a smooth transition with a good group of upperclassmen helping him along. He threw a lot of balls to his receivers throughout the summer and went to camps to help prepare him for this shot.
“I got a great group of seniors,” Roste said. “They’re not putting any pressure on me to do well. They just told me to go out there and do my best and give it my all. That’s just my plan. Go out there and do what I can do to help the offense and put points on the board.”

Just being in year two of a new offensive system should help guys like Roste and other newcomers to the varsity level get comfortable.
Alexandria went from a Wing-T offense that they ran for years to a more spread offense last year in an attempt to get skill position players out in space and let them use their athleticism. Gorghuber will play both ways again this year as a wide receiver on offense in addition to his safety duties.
He said coaches did a good job last year of teaching the offense and helping players understand it. He also noted that having a year under their belt can only help in picking things up even more.
Empting agrees that guys might be more comfortable this year even with some holes to fill on offense.
“I think so,” Empting said. “Plus we had a great summer. Our offense I thought really made some headway this summer. It’s not new but we’re improving on it. I feel like offensively we’re ahead of where we were a year ago. We’re using a lot of deception again, both with formations but also with what we’re doing with the ball.”


Alexandria is coming off a 2013 season where this team went 2-7 after going 2-8 in 2012.
“It’s about improvement and a lot of it is we have kind of a mix of some veterans and young kids out there,” Empting said. “I think we’re going to be mostly juniors and seniors. We don’t see ourselves playing a lot of sophomores this year other than maybe one or two positions and perhaps some backup roles so that will be encouraging.”
A lot of those juniors and seniors are hungry to turn things around after two losing seasons. Optimism always runs high going into a season, but for this year’s seniors, they want to surprise some people and go out on a positive note.
“As a team we would love to make it to the state tournament and that’s always our goal,” Revering said. “But it’s improving from last year. Everyone hopes to improve a little bit individually and as a team. I know we’re going to do that this year and hopefully meet some of our goals.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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