The Alexandria football team will look quite a bit different this season after moving away from an offensive system that has been a part of this program for many years.
The Wing-T offense is designed to help teams control the ball through a ground-oriented attack and by mixing in the play-action pass. It helped produce some successful teams in the past for the Cardinals, but head coach Mike Empting and his staff felt it was time to move away from it and find an offense that better fits this team’s personnel.
“Sometimes, you just got to hold your breath and go,” Empting said. “Can the Wing-T still be successful right now? Eden Prairie runs basically the Wing-T and they’re at state every year. Totino-Grace does as well, but they’re also Eden Prairie and Totino-Grace. They could probably run whatever they want and be successful because they got the bodies.”
Schools the size of Alexandria and many others in the Central Lakes Conference don’t always have that luxury. Instead, Cardinal coaches looked at what they had coming back this season and knew they needed to give an athletic group the chance to make more plays.
They figured the best way to do that would be by spreading opponents out and letting their skill position players use their natural ability. Quarterback John Vogeler and running back Mitch Peck make up an athletic backfield. Fellow senior captains Parker Bowden (WR) and Aaron Steidl (TE), along with guys like David Krivanek, Joe Gorghuber, Riley Hvezda and Parker Revering, provide Vogeler with a lot of guys he is excited to throw to.
“I’m very confident,” Vogeler said of his skill position players. “Probably the most confident I’ve ever been. We have Parker, David, Riley, Steidl. I honestly think it’s probably one of the best wide receiver combinations for quite some time because everybody has very good speed, super athletic, good agility and can make the plays and go up and get the ball.”
Vogeler will line up in the shotgun and the offense will go no-huddle and feature some four and five-wide receiver sets. Empting also knows he has Steidl at tight end, who he said is almost impossible to keep off the field with his ability to block up front and catch the ball.
“You got to give your athletes a chance,” Empting said. “If you’re under center and turn and hand off, which has been good for us. We’ve been very successful here with that, but there comes a time when it might just be time to turn the page. We’ve got the guys. We just need to give them a chance to make plays.”
Empting said his staff went to a lot of clinics and reached out to coaches all over at both the high school and college level to gain advice on how to run this style of offense. They even contacted an offensive line coach at the University of Oregon. The Ducks became the blueprint under now Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly on how to spread teams out and use multiple athletes to torment an opposing defense.
“We really wanted to find out as much about the ins and outs of this stuff as we could,” Empting said. “It’s simple. It’s not as complicated as you would imagine, and when you’re not huddling, it can’t be that complicated. There’s only so many ways you can communicate. The kids are catching on to it really well. It gives us, I think, some advantages because we’re not very big up front. We have a lot of double teams, which are great. We’re not very big but we’re pretty strong still, so we have two guys working on one.”
It will be a new look for this team and one that the Cardinals hope will result in a lot more success after going 2-8 in 2012. The Cardinals graduated almost everybody on their offensive line from last year. How that new group adjusts to the varsity level will go a long way in determining whether or not the new offense is a success.
“For us to go, those guys have to go,” Empting said. “Whether it’s protecting in the pass or creating seams in the running game. But I think we definitely have the ability to be more dynamic and have a higher probability of success with what we’re doing right now if those guys take a little bit of time to gel.”