By Nathan Brown
The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. —
Losing by more than 60 points to end your season is a tough way to bow out of the first round of sectionals, but Alexandria football coach Pete Gast took the beat-down in stride.
Two seasons in a row, the Tigers were taken down by one of the best in their sectional — the team lost 51-10 in 2011 to Guerin Catholic before the defeat by Heritage Christian this past fall — but Gast said a team that was once young and inexperienced has grown into a tough competitor this offseason.
Last season, his squad had just three seniors to lead a team that finished 3-7, but this year, Gast has eight seniors — seven of which who have played all three years previously — to go along with 18 juniors, and with more age and experience, Gast hopes success will come also.
“Being a senior by age alone doesn’t help a kid that’s only played one or two years and for whatever reason didn’t play all four years,” he said. “He’s behind and hasn’t fully developed in your program. These are kids who when I got to Alexandria were eighth graders, so they’ve been through our program all four years of their high school career.”
Gast said he and his coaching staff spent several hours rewatching every single game tape this offseason, even the game against Heritage Christian, which Gast said he watched twice but struggled to find positives in.
But in the times his team had success last season, Gast came to a simple conclusion.
“It’s just about us,” he said. “If we do things right, if we take care of our own business, it doesn’t matter who we’re going to play. We’re going to be successful if we take care of proving ourselves.”
And this offseason, Gast’s team identity became one of depth and competition.
Even with more than half of his players competing on the baseball and track and field teams well into the summer, Gast said the Tigers had solid numbers during offseason lifting and conditioning.
Three days a week, his staff would meet with players at 8 a.m. for either a lifting session or to work on conditioning and speed work on the track. They also faced off against other teams in the area for 7-on-7 and full team scrimmages to help implement plays and improve his players’ knowledge of the offensive and defensive schemes.
Players who attended those workouts were well ahead of players who just showed up for the first few days of official practice in the beginning of August, Gast said, but he’s enjoyed seeing the intense competition that he thinks his squad will thrive off of this season.
With all 11 starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, Gast said he thinks that will be his team’s strength this season, but having returning guys doesn’t mean their spots are safe.
“The No. 2 guys behind them want to become No. 1s,” he said. “On that side of the ball, there are a lot of guys playing hard and pushing each other, and it’s just fun to watch because really, that’s what builds a good football team is competition and depth. We’ve got a lot of that going.”
One of his starters on defense, cornerback Blaize Kelly, also will look to string together another solid season on the other side of the ball, leading the Tigers’ offensive attack. Gast said the junior quarterback has put a lot of time in during the offseason, even while excelling at his spring sport of baseball, and he will look for Kelly to be one of the cornerstones for Alexandria this fall.
With another season under Kelly’s belt, stronger senior leadership and fiery competition at nearly every position, Gast said he thinks the previous season may be the last his team goes down by a large margin in sectionals.
This season, the Tigers are looking to contend with the best, he said.
“I really expect to compete with everybody,” Gast said. “I think we’re going to be really eager to compete with everybody in our conference, and I really hope come October, we’re in the upper half of our conference with an opportunity to be right there at the top.”