After a productive spring camp, the St. Ambrose coaching staff decided to inject a little fun into the annual spring football game.
Instead of having starters go against starters, the Fighting Bees held a draft. The graduate assistants put together their own teams to practice the final week and then play last Friday at the St. Vincent Athletic Complex.
"It's not always your best against your best, but we had fun," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "It was a good time. We felt like we had a good spring, guys were working hard and we were just looking for a fun way to finish up spring.
"The best part about doing it, in my opinion, is you spend the whole spring going offense against defense to where it was really fun to see in the last week of practice and then the spring game, offensive guys cheering for defensive guys and vice versa. ... Sometimes I think in spring ball as well as fall camp, you lose sight of the fact that we're one team."
The Bees hope that camaraderie can help them build on a 6-4 season, a turnaround from a pair of 4-6 records the past two years.
Although the Bees graduate only 14 seniors from last year, there are some questions they will have to answer. Perhaps the biggest comes at quarterback.
Following the graduation of Jake Romani, the competition is largely between sophomore Dino Borrelli of Manhattan, Illinois, and freshman John Benckendorf of Streator, Illinois.
Borrelli was Romani's backup last year and made an impression in a late-season game, throwing for 295 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Trinity International, a game Romani missed due to injury.
Benckendorf, meanwhile, played the full season on the junior varsity team. The competition was close all spring and though Magistrelli said Benckendorf had a better showing in the spring game, he won't name a starter until the fall.
"It's pretty tight. I don't think we're in position yet to name a starter," Magistrelli said. "The good part is that we feel like we've got two guys we can win with. It would be different if they both had ho-hum springs or were somewhat average. I felt they both did some really good things to where, to be honest between the grading and the statistics, I don't know if you could have scripted them any closer."
Magistrelli said there are a few players changing positions. There are other holes that need to be filled along both lines and in the linebacker position, but with just 14 seniors from last year's team, there shouldn't be a lot of turnover that needs to be addressed.
That's allowed the Bees to not spend as much time implementing base packages, instead tweaking some existing concepts, including more use of four receiver sets and utilizing the quarterback run a little more than the past few years.
"I think one of the strengths of us offensively right now is our depth and versatility at receiver," Magistrelli said. "On the defensive side, we got a look at getting in some different fronts other than just a four-man front all the time and doing some different blitz packages to where we felt we did some good things to expand what we're doing schematically on both sides."
Incoming freshmen report to fall camp on Aug. 9, followed by returning players on Aug. 13. The Bees will prepare for their season opener against Missouri Baptist University on Sept. 7.
"I think we're continuing to get better, and that's a big key for us right now," Magistrelli said. "I think we all realize where we're at is not where we need to be when we line up to play our first game. There's still work to do."