Rylan Metz

Alexandria quarterback Rylan Metz runs the ball last season against Central Indiana Conference rival Frankton.

ALEXANDRIA — As Alexandria's football squad seeks to improve its fortunes, the Tigers do have a significant advantage, and that is they have three champions to help lead the way.

Quarterback Rylan Metz and receivers Cade Vernetti and Kole Stewart played large roles for Alexandria's Class 2A state baseball and sectional basketball title teams earlier this year.

"Those three guys are like the heartbeat of our offense," Tigers coach Pete Gast said. "Those three guys know how to work. They just know how to win, and they have the confidence when they take the field that is valuable to us."

And while Metz, Vernetti and Stewart are proven offensive threats, the opposition was much more potent than Alexandria was last season, and that left the Tigers at 4-7 after the 2017 edition went 7-4.

Alexandria averaged 25 points per game, but found itself on the wrong end of a few too many shootouts, most notably a 70-52 loss against Blackford in which Metz saw a 436-yard, seven-touchdown day go to waste.

After Blackford in Week 5, Alexandria allowed 54 to Class 2A state runner-up Eastbrook and 65 to Mississinewa then fell 51-13 to Shenandoah in the second round of 2A Sectional 36.

"A lot of that is, we started a lot of young kids last year," Gast said. "But we've got to tackle better. We've got to stop people. We've got to create more turnovers. But if we can improve on defense, I really like how our season is going to be."

Metz enters his senior season with 4,177 yards and 45 TD passes in three years, including 2,367 yards and 24 TDs in 2018. The left-hander was an all-Central Indiana Conference QB and will also play linebacker and be the placekicker.

Senior Vernetti has been the main target, with a team-leading 62 catches and 791 yards, and Stewart, a junior, was good for 37 receptions and 475 yards. Both had five TDs last year.

"I think what they accomplished (in baseball and basketball) is going to translate well to us as well," Gast said.

Experience at running back is a different matter, with 800-yard rusher Aaron Thomas having graduated. In fact, Metz is the leading returning rusher (189 yards, three TDs). Sophomore Max Naselroad figures to get ample carries, as well as juniors Hunter Leever and Eric Pegg.

The offensive line may well have five senior starters — Blaise King (200 pounds), Elijah Burnett (225), Daniel Snyder (195), Merrick Abernathy (255) and Tyler Hahn (180).

"That's going to be an upgrade as well," Gast said. "We don't talk a lot about linemen, but that's going to be a strength of our team."

Seven defensive starters are back — linemen Hahn, Burnett, senior Jayden Morris (210 pounds) and junior Bracken Womack (200), as well as Vernetti, Stewart and senior Jon Abbott in the secondary.

Among the linebackers are Metz, Naselroad and juniors Noe Alegria and Gabe Scott.

The Tigers open Aug. 23 at home against Wes-Del and have six very winnable games before their Week 7 trip to Eastbrook. In between, Alexandria is at Wabash and Frankton, hosts Madison-Grant, visits Blackford and plays Elwood at home.

"The CIC is tough, but we don't want to overlook anybody, even our non-conference," said Gast, whose Tigers were 1-6 in the CIC last year. "Our main goal is to cut our points (allowed) per game down to where if a team's going to beat us, we're not going to give up big plays that will demoralize us. We're going to have to move the ball on long drives and execute and be more solid on that side of the ball."