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Sean Santiago is one of several key performers returning to the St. Ambrose defensive line. “This is probably the best defensive line we’ve had here,” Bees coach Mike Magistrelli said. (Larry Fisher/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

St. Ambrose football coach Mike Magistrelli holds this year’s defensive line in high regard, calling it the best group he’s had as a coach.

He said his cornerback combo of Jared Bell and Steve Thomas could be the best in the Mid-States Football Association. The linebackers return the team’s leading tackler last year in Jeremy Wallace. All told, the sixth-year coach said his defense will be stout.

“We’ve had an outstanding camp defensively,” Magistrelli said.

Last season, the defense allowed 13.7 points per game, good for third in the MSFA, playing mostly from the 3-4 alignment. This season, the unit will switch between the 3-4 and 4-3.

“This is probably the best defensive line we’ve had here,” Magistrelli said. “It’s the amount of depth there. We have seven or eight guys that we think could be starters.”

It’s not just Magistrelli who holds that opinion. The defenders have high expectations as well.

“I think we’re going to be very well off this year,” senior defensive lineman Sean Santiago said. “Last year, we had a whole bunch of guys from different areas. Everybody’s clicking this year. Our defensive line is clicking, our linebackers are working out very well and our DBs look solid.”

If the defense has any question marks, it might be the linebacking corps that lost Adrian Leal and Andrew Briones to graduation. What the unit lacks in game experience, it makes up in chemistry.

“We lost a few guys, but the guys we have we feel good about them,” Wallace said. “It’s a good group of guys. Our offense looks good this year, and going against them only makes us better.”

That offense is in the second season running out of the pistol formation. Junior Eric Williamson is in his second year as starting quarterback. This summer, practices have revolved around perfecting technique, not learning plays.

“Technique is definitely key because we have a bunch of guys coming back,” said Williamson, noting Barney O’Donnell as the only skill position player not back from last season. “This year is about the little things, because those little things go a long way in game situations.”

Williamson’s teammates have seen growth out of their quarterback, who is in his second year at the controls.

“He looks really comfortable,” senior all-American left tackle Carl Meister said. “It’s really nice because he’s made the offense his own now. If he ever needs to change the play, he’ll be more comfortable and the change he’ll make will be the best situation for us. He understands how we run and how the offense runs in general.”

Together the team thinks it can make a run at a conference title and has the depth to withstand injuries.

Sophomore Matt Klinger will handle the punting duties again as well as kickoffs. Patrick Schmadeke, last year’s kicker, left the team. Two freshmen, Quinn Treiber and Dalton Klavon, are in competition. Junior Zach Rockford will handle the majority of the return duties.

St. Ambrose Glance

Coach: Mike Magistrelli, 34-19, entering sixth season

Last season: 7-3, 5-2 MSFA

Returning offensive starters:

QB Eric Williamson, jr., 6-1, 220

RB Cole Kelly, jr., 5-11, 195

RB Anton Wilkins, sr., 5-9, 190

WR Carter Oltman, sr. 5-9, 180

TE Andrew Friederich, jr. 6-2, 225

OL Carl Meiser, sr., 6-4, 300

OL Alex Berg, sr., 6-2, 285

DL Sean Santiago, sr., 5-11.265

DL Ryne Diehl, jr., 6-2, 235

DL Cory Price, jr., 6-5, 255

LB Jeremy Wallace, jr., 6-1, 215

CB Jordan Bell, jr., 5-9, 165

CB Steve Thomas, so. 5-11, 205

S Sean Kelly, jr. 5-8, 185

P Matt Klingler, jr., 6-1, 235


Sept. 1: at Trinity International, 1 p.m.

Sept. 8: at Saint Francis (Ind.), 12 p.m.

Sept. 15: Taylor, 1 p.m.

Sept. 29: Grand View, 1 p.m.

Oct. 6: at Quincy, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13: Iowa Wesleyan (at PV High School), 1 p.m.

Oct. 20: Olivet Nazarene, 1 p.m.

Oct. 27: at Waldorf, 1 p.m.

Nov. 3: at William Penn, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10: St. Francis (Ill.), 1 p.m.

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