Andrew Briones is doing it all on the defensive side of the football for the St. Ambrose Fighting Bees this fall.|
Just look at the stats.
He leads the team in tackles (55), assisted tackles (23), interceptions (4) and fumble recoveries (2). He is second on the team in solos tackles (32), tackles for loss (6.5), sacks (2) and forced fumbles (1).
"After every game, you look at the stat sheet and he's forcing fumbles, intercepting passes, sacking the quarterback; he just has a great nose and an instinct for the football,'' said SAU coach Mike Magistrelli, whose nationally 13th-ranked club is 6-1 heading into today's home contest with Waldorf at Brady Street Stadium.
He has a well-aged nose that is serving him well as he moved to a more comfortable position this season in defensive coordinator Jeff Girsch's scheme. He is now an inside linebacker after being on the edge last fall.
The 23-year-old, fifth-year senior is taking advantage of his age and wisdom, turning it into a senior season he hopes is one to remember. The former Alleman prep who spent three years at Western Illinois University, admits there are advantages to being an older player on the field.
"When I was younger, in my first experiences of college football, I was a very, very timid person,'' admitted Briones. "I wasn't going out there and doing my job all the time because of that. Now that I'm a more mature player, and knowing my assignments better and having a better understanding of the defense, I know what I'm supposed to do.''
Briones is one of the older players on the team, but his body is holding up better this year than last. He lost the first five games of his junior season to a lingering hamstring injury and used that experience to help him stay healthier and on the field this fall.
"I have treated my body better and been smarter about it,'' he admitted.
That doesn't mean that he has tempered his game any.
"Coach Girsch puts him in positions to let him freelance and run,'' said Magistrelli, noting he has to reign in his standout in practice occasionally. "That really fits his strengths.''
While his career blossomed after coming back home, Briones said he wouldn't change a thing about his time in Macomb where he saw Special Teams action and just a few downs on defense.
"I wouldn't have it any other way,'' he said. "The little things I learned down there have helped me improve my game here. The minute details that I brought back from Western to here – different types of techniques and other little things – have helped me improve my game. ... It's helped me mature as a person and helped me mature as a player.''
Briones is hoping all that grooming pays off and leaves him with a very memorable collegiate finale that he hopes culminates with a Mid-States Football Association Midwest League title and deep run into the playoffs.
Even if it is his final season in pads, the exercise science major hopes it is not his last around football. In fact, he recently changed his major so that he could find a career – strength and conditioning coach or physical therapist – that keeps him around the game if becoming a coach doesn't pan out for some reason.
"The more I've played football, the harder it is going to be to get away from football when I'm done playing,'' he said.
He hopes that a long NAIA playoff run extends his collegiate career. He got fired up about the possibility of pro options – on any level – surfacing so he could keep hitting the field and foes.
"It would be a dream to be able to continue playing,'' he said. "I'm hoping for any opportunity to keep playing. I just love this game so much and I'm not ready to give it up.''