The Alexandria football team has a lot of seniors to replace from last year, and included in that is a two-time team MVP in quarterback Matthew Carlsen.
Ready to step into that role is junior Carter Steffensmeier. The right-hander showed some velocity on his ball during practice on Sept. 28 while throwing into a stiff north wind as coaches ran receivers and quarterbacks through passing drills. He has some experience at the varsity level, making one start as a sophomore last year when Carlsen rested an injury ahead of the playoffs. Now it’s Steffensmeier’s turn to take the reins full time in an offense that demands a lot of the quarterback to make the right reads and decisions on almost every play.
“There’s going to be a learning curve,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “He’s a junior. This is going to be his first year seeing varsity action. He played a game for us last year, but this is the first year with everything falling on his shoulders.”
Empting just wants Steffensmeier to play within himself. The players in Alexandria’s program are brought up through the junior levels playing the same system that they will see at the varsity level. Quarterbacks know the ins and outs of the offense, but it’s a different feeling when they step onto the turf under the lights in a game going at varsity speed.
“While he’s learning and figuring out the varsity game, he’s just got to lean on the guys who have the experience -- Kristen (Hoskins) and Nolan (Morical) and spread the ball around,” Empting said. “Trust those guys and take what the defense gives him. Don’t try to do too much. He’s going to have a good supporting cast around him. As long as he realizes that he can play within himself and let the game come to him, not put a lot of pressure on himself, I think he’s going to be just fine.”
In Morical and Hoskins, Steffensmeier has two of the best and most experienced skill-position players to work with of almost any program Alexandria will play. Both were all-district and all-section players in 2019. Morical ran for 1,514 yards and 20 touchdowns on 206 carries, while Hoskins caught 74 balls for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Empting is confident that there are guys around them who haven’t gotten the chance yet at the varsity level, but who are ready to make big contributions this fall.
“We are going to have some guys on the perimeter who can catch the ball,” Empting said. “We’ve got some long receivers this year too. They’re juniors, first year seeing some action for some of them, but they can run and they can catch the ball. That’s going to be fun to watch develop as the season goes along. We’re also going to have a lot of new guys up front there, so it’s going to be fun watching those guys come along.”
Playing both ways
Many of the athletes who go through a system in programs like Alexandria play on both sides of the ball early in their careers.
That sometimes translates all the way to the varsity level, and this year as much as any that might be the case. Many of the guys at the Cardinals’ practice on Sept. 28 were working on both offense and defense. That’s by design, with coaches wanting players to be able to step in at multiple positions in case something should arise relating to players having to be shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just because of the uncertainty right now, there’s chances that if one guy gets the virus a bunch of guys could be out,” senior captain Elijah Holthaus said. “We’re just trying to get everyone on both sides of the ball and have that knowledge. So if the circumstance were to pop up, everyone could play in different positions and be able to fill in a spot when necessary.”
Empting also wants to give his most experienced players every chance to compete this year. With only six games in the regular season and the postseason picture undecided, it’s a season that could feel like it’s over in the blink of an eye after getting a late start.
“We’re going to get our best players out there and let them play,” Empting said. “A lot of them are going to be seniors, and if it’s going to be a short season, we’re going to get them on the field as much as we can so they can get the most out of it.”