Tyler Stieffermann couldn't have asked for better mentors.
A junior running back and linebacker for the Borgia football team, Stieffermann watched how Louis Eckelkamp and Matthew Sinnott went about their business last season and how it paid off on Friday nights.
The primary running back, Eckelkamp rushed for 1,381 yards and 27 touchdowns. A dominating linebacker, Sinnott led the team with 151 tackles and seven sacks. Both graduated in the spring.
Now it's Stieffermann who's been tasked with stepping into both roles as a two-way starter. He's as ready as he could be.
“Sinnott taught me everything I needed to know,” Stieffermann said. “The way he played is faster and different than anybody else. It showed me what I should play like every single play.”
The Knights lost those key seniors from last year's 10-2 campaign. The two losses were tough ones to swallow. Archdiocesan Athletic Association foe and Class 3 runner up Cardinal Ritter scraped out a 40-35 win while Camdenton toppled Borgia 24-13 in their Class 4 district championship game.
Every other opponent succumbed to the Knights by 13 or more points.
With six returning players on either side of the ball, Borgia slots in as the No. 8 small school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings.
Among those returners are three offensive linemen. The highest profile of that trio is Mitchell Gildehaus (6-foot-5, 270 pounds). A distant relative of long-time coach Dale Gildehaus, Mitchell has verbally committed to Memphis. He had to sift through nearly a dozen offers that included the likes of Ball State, Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming. Mitchell said it was a weight off his shoulders when decided in June Memphis was his future home.
“It's definitely a big relief for me and allowed me to focus on this year,” he said.
This group will also make up the defensive line. While they are talented and tough, there just isn't a lot of depth. If the Knights have an Achilles heel at the moment it's their lack of big bodies.
“We don't have a lot of them,” Dale Gildehaus said.
The Knights are replacing their leading rusher in Eckelkamp but they bring back junior quarterback Sam Heggemann (6-3, 183). Heggemann threw for 1,278 yards, 15 touchdowns and was intercepted five times in his first varsity season. He's itching to show what he can do now that he has a better understanding of what's life is like on varsity.
“The first year is very tough,” he said. “I'm so much more comfortable now.”
Stieffermann (5-11, 175) is expected to make significant contributions in the running game. When Borgia is at its best, it consistently wins the line of scrimmage and wears opponents out on the ground. Stieffermann prepared in the offseason for the pounding he's expecting to take as a key cog in the offense.
“You have to be in the weight room, trying to get bigger, stronger and faster,” he said. “That's all you can do.”
The run game is key but Dale Gildehaus feels the Knights have receivers that can make an impact as senior Brandon Mitchell (6-1, 180) joins juniors Ryan Kell (6-1, 145), Nick Dyson (5-11, 155) and Andrew Patton (6-6, 165). That group caught a combined three passes last season (all were by Mitchell).
Stieffermann's 13 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns are the most for any returning Knight.
Dale Gildehaus is high on what Patton showed this summer. After spending his sophomore year on the junior varsity, Patton made an impression on his coach that big things could be in store.
“He's big, he has great hands and he can run,” Dale Gildehaus said.
“We've got some shoes to fill,” Dale Gildehaus said. “We have to keep working hard and we'll be all right.”