By Zack Lundquist
All-American linebacker gone. Three year starting quarterback gone. That’s just part of the turnover from last year to this year for the Fighting Bees football team. The Bees will be without six of their seven leading tacklers from a season ago as well as their leading rusher and receiver. New coaches roam the sidelines at both Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator, but none of this has Head Coach Mike Magistrelli thinking re-build as they start the season ranked 17th.
“I think what you’re going to see is a young, hungry, athletic team who has been chomping at the bit for their opportunity to play,” said Magistrelli.
The learning curve will be steep for these young Bees as they start their season Sept. 13 on the road against Taylor University who will already have two games under their belt. Looking on from there, the schedule doesn’t get much easier as they have four top twenty-five opponents including defending national champion Grand View. However, three of the four ranked opponents on the schedule will be played at Brady Street Stadium, where the Bees were undefeated last year going a perfect 5-0.
“One advantage of playing at home is obviously the home crowd,” said junior lineman Jack Leibold. “It also means less travel so the guys usually aren’t as tired or worn out from the long bus trips.”
On the offensive side of the ball a big question mark still looms over the quarterback position. Junior Pat Smith and senior Cory Schaab have been battling for a starting spot that Magistrelli hoped would be settled last year in spring ball. Smith is a transfer from division three powerhouse Wisconsin Whitewater and attended the same high school as former Bee quarterback Eric Williamson. Schaab on the other hand is a fifth year senior who has been waiting for his opportunity since his freshmen year. Magistrelli still hasn’t ruled out the chance that both see significant time in a dual quarterback system.
“I had hoped to leave spring practice with a starter named but both played so well that there really hasn’t been much separation between the two,” explained Magistrelli. “In the coming weeks if something comes up where we say this is our guy than we will move forward with him, but don’t rule out the possibility of a two quarterback system.”
No matter who the starter is at quarterback, they’ll have a lot of returning protection up front as the Bees return three experienced linemen in senior Dan Mahoney, senior Joe Novak, and junior Jack Leibold. These three will anchor an offensive line that will be charged with paving holes for young running backs and keeping whoever is in the pocket upright.
“We’ve got some things we need to work on still but we played with a lot of tenacity in our scrimmage against Augustana, and it’s always good to hit someone not on your own team,” Mahoney said.
It’s not just the offensive line that brings back some leadership as the defensive line brings back some production up front with a healthy Jonah Hoelscher and Steve Laski orchestrating the defensive line.
Behind them is a group of linebackers that has surprised coach Magistrelli the most this fall. With the loss of leading tacklers Jeremy Wallace, Tyler Donaldson, and Ryan Chambers, there wasn’t a lot of experience left on the roster at the position. However, Magistrelli likes what he sees from this group and he says they’re as athletic and good as any group of linebackers he’s ever had. They’ll get plenty of chances to prove it as the new Bees defense will feature a 3-4 over the old 4-3 scheme.
“Switching to the 3-4 gives the linebackers a little more free range which is good because there a quick athletic group that can go two deep at any spot,” Hoelscher explained.
Although this is a young, inexperienced team, expectations are still high as St. Ambrose starts the season inside the top 25 with aspirations of a conference championship and second consecutive playoff apperance. For now though they’ll have to wait until Sept. 13 to show what they can do.