It’s been a long wait, but the Alexandria football team is ecstatic to take the field at home against St. Francis on Friday night.

They will do it with a lot of new faces on the turf.

After 27 seniors graduated from the 2019 roster, the Cardinals are forced to plug in inexperienced players. Head coach Mike Empting is looking to lean on a few key veterans to pull out a win.

“Teams that have guys coming back are going to have a big advantage, and we don’t have a lot of guys coming back on either side of the ball,” Empting said. “The guys that were out there last year for us have been great, and they’re going to have to lead the way for us while everybody else gets caught up to speed.”

One new starter is Carter Steffensmeier at quarterback. The junior has big pieces around him to help him be successful early on.

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“Nolan Morical ran for 1,500 yards last season, and Kristen Hoskins, who can obviously catch the ball really well, is back,” Empting said. “I think it’s going to come down to our ability to run the football and protect the quarterback. Neko Glaser and Connor Lay played a lot of minutes up front for us last year. If what we see in practice materializes, Carter will be just fine on Friday night.”

St. Francis went 4-6 last season and won a first-round playoff game in the Section 7-5A tournament. They bring back several starters from 2019 and will look to spoil the Cardinals’ home opener.

“We have a few games on film, but it’s somewhat unknown what kind of team they’re going to throw at us,” Empting said. “Our out-of-division game was going to be against Buffalo, a team we played last year, but this is another shakeup of this season. They’re a team that wants to be physical and wants to run the ball. Defensively, they’re an odd-front type defense. They like to play downhill and aggressively.”

One of the extra factors about this season is the lack of fans in attendance. Alexandria can have a total of 250 spectators between both teams on Friday night. It’s a variable that Empting believes is hard to account for, but could end up helping his guys.

“It could go either way, honestly,” Empting said. “I think it could help nerves of playing in a game where there isn’t a student section or a lot of fans, but there are also players that feed off that. If a guy makes a big tackle or scores a touchdown, that could drive them going forward. I think it’ll impact each player differently.”

The Cardinals had a week of practice under their belt before they got the announcement that there was going to be a six-game season. Even with limited preparation, Alexandria is looking forward to the challenges that a real game presents.

“It’s been a long time coming for the coaches and the players,” Empting said. “We all feel it, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. We think we have a handle on all of the protocols as far as distancing and masking that are put in place. Everybody knows what happens if things go wrong, so we are going to keep doing the right thing.”

LIVE STREAMING OF GAME

Outdoor events for Minnesota State High School League member schools will be limited to 250 spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fans can watch a livestream of Alexandria’s season opener against St. Francis on Friday night starting at 7 p.m. by going to the district website at https://www.alexschools.org/Domain/47. Fans should select “Alexandria Area High School” in the “Select a School” drop-down menu.