by Jackson Boline
Alexandria has gotten off to a hot start, soaring to 3-0 and sitting with Brainerd as the two remaining Section 8AAAA undefeated teams. The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 99 to 18, defeating Chaska in the opening game 42-7, taking down Monticello 20-18, and blowing out St. Cloud Tech on Homecoming 37-14.
The Cardinals have flipped the script from last year, as they started the 2022 season 1-5. They finished the season with a 4-6 record, ending with a loss in the section 8AAAAA semifinals to Moorhead.
The Cardinals biggest loss heading into the 2023 season was wide receiver Kelly Johnson who led the team in receptions and 596 yards through the air. Alexandria did retain most of its returning cast, however. Two significant returning starters include Junior QB Chase Thompson, and running back Walker Hennen, as well as their leading tackler Jacob Lanoux who mans the middle of the field at linebacker.
“Lanoux has been an anchor on our defense the last two seasons now, he is a leader on the team,” said head coach Mike Empting.
Empting has been at the helm with AAHS for the last 16 seasons. He has coached many great players, one including Bethal star quarterback Jaron Roste. Being the coach for 16 seasons, Empting has great experience in developing young starters from years one to years three of their career, and it’s no different with this 2023 Cardinal squad.
“It’s been a blast to see these kids develop into great athletes on the field,” said Empting.
The Cardinals have found success in every aspect of the game thus far. Offensively they’ve thrown for well over 500 yards. Chase Thmpson has been under center for every play and has thrown six touchdowns.
“It’s been fun to watch Chase’s development and growth on the field from last year, he makes very smart decisions with the ball, and is a great athlete and leader,” said Empting.
They’ve also ran the ball for 340 yards this season, splitting the rock between multiple players with Andrew Flatten leading the team with 128 of the 340 yards.
Defensively they’ve been stingy and aggressive, with a team sack total of six, and already snagging five interceptions.
“We force turnovers with our pressure up the middle. A big reason is Staples and Lempka who are a dynamic duo,” said Empting.
Offense and defense are of course the two most important and prominent aspects of football, but Alexandria is dangerous from another aspect…special teams. Sophomore kicker Daniel Jackson has been a star on this Cardinals team. Jackson is 7-for-7 on the year, making multiple 40-plus yard field goals and one being a game winner against Monticello. Jackson spends the off-season going to camps around the country, including Texas, where it is invite only.
“It’s great to watch this kid, he works so hard on his craft all year long. He’s an outstanding kicker who has such a bright future,” said Empting.
In high school football, you rarely see teams game-planning on defense about an opponent’s kicker, but with the strong leg Jackson brings, teams have been doing just that.
“We have other defenses aware of Jackson’s leg, so when we’re around the opponents 40-yard line they try to contain so we don’t get a chance for three points, and with Jackson’s leg power, it could be the 50,” said Empting.
So much of kicking field goals is mental, so good kickers have to be mentally strong, which is something Jackson has learned to be.
“He’s so mentally aware of how to be a kicker,” Empting said. “He studies the great ones and learns to be great.”
Jackson is a weapon on a team that can attack in so many ways, but having someone who can go out and win the game with his leg could pay dividends down the road.
The Cardinals were a younger team a season ago, a likely cause for their under .500 record, but don’t be fooled by their growth and development this year as they are still a young squad.
“We have some seniors on the roster but we have a great mix of juniors and sophomores as well, so we still have a young team,” said Empting. “That being said, they’ve shown so much development from year one to year two, I’m excited to see how much growth there is in the playoffs.”
The Cardinals look to play Homecoming spoiler in week four, facing a familiar foe in Sartell. The Sabres are 0-3, coming off a 65-6 loss against Brainerd.
“They’re looking for their first win, they’ve played great teams to start the year and have lost a couple of close games,” said Empting. “They are a good team, better than their record indicates and they always fight with us until the end every year.”
The Cardinals took down the Sabres last season 15-6. Thompson threw for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Junior cornerback and wide receiver had an interception in the win.
If both Brainerd and Alexandria win (Brainerd takes on 2-1 Moorhead), they will meet up Sept. 29 in Brainerd in what could be a pre-cursor to the section final.
In Week 2 Brainerd defeated reigning state champion Elk River 38-35. Last season they defeated Alexandria 15-14 in Alexandria.
But this is a new year and it’s a different team for the Cardinals.
With a strong offfense, defense and perhaps the best kicker around, Section 8AAAAA could be theirs for the taking.