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Undersized Will Stieber leads St. Paul defense

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Nov 14, 2019 at 8:05 PM

NORWALK — Will Stieber has never been the smallest player on any football team he’s been a part of.

But the St. Paul sophomore definitely has never been the biggest, either.

“I was always about medium-sized,” said Stieber, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound linebacker for the Flyers. “

In many ways, Stieber is the epitome of this version of the Flyers (9-2), who face Patrick Henry (8-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Division VII regional semifinal in Fremont.

St. Paul’s roster has just three players who weigh over 200 pounds — and none bigger than 225 pounds.

And yet Stieber stands in the middle of the Flyer defense with impressive numbers. He enters Saturday’s game with 108 tackles (eight for loss), three sacks, four fumble recoveries, an interception and two pass breakups.

It’s an impressive season from a linebacker who would be 30-plus pounds bigger. But even in August, most within the program would have been hard pressed to see such a fast breakout for Stieber.

In August, 29-year St. Paul head coach John Livengood noted Stieber had potential and that he would be in the mix at inside linebacker. Now, he’s a player who calls the defensive alignments for the Flyer coaching staff during games on top of leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss and fumble recoveries.

“He’s grown up as a good wrestler, and those abilities have allowed him to get in there with single and double-leg takedowns on his tackles,” Livengood said of Stieber. “He’s a very sound tackler, but he has natural instincts in terms of having a feel for going underneath and over top of blocks, and reacting to it.

“That’s the part you can’t always teach. Kids either have those instincts or they don’t. Will has the innate ability to see things and take the proper course to making a stop.”

No game to date illustrates Stieber’s impact — or what he symbolizes — then an Oct. 19 game against Western Reserve. The Flyers lost the classic game, 41-35, in overtime.

But in the loss, Stieber finished with 16 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery against a Western team that was massive by size comparison.

“Will kind of typifies a lot of our players — undersized and overachieving,” Livengood said. “He has tremendous instincts and plays bigger than his size. He plays much more physical than his size and rarely misses a tackle. He is as fundamental as any linebacker that we have coached.”

For his part, Stieber didn’t think he’d have this quick of an impact — even after opening the season with nine tackles (three for loss), two fumble recoveries and an interception in a 55-0 win over Northgate, Pa. on Aug. 31.

“It’s just a result of coming in and out every day and giving a full effort in practice,” Stieber said. ““You always have to give your full effort. We know we’re undersized, so at that point, it’s about technique more so for us. All the effort and technique goes together, and that’s kind of how it works.”

Livengood said with Stieber serving as the “Mike” linebacker — the player in charge of aligning the middle of the defense — there comes a lot of responsibility. And though he is quiet in demeanor, Stieber has thrived in the position.

“The thing that is great about him is he is a very humble, quiet, tough kid who works hard,” Livengood said. “He only talks when he needs to talk. He communicates well within the context of what you need him to do. He is a very focused individual — and a team first individual.”

And while he admits its a lot of responsibility, Stieber said one of the bigger things on his mind this season is maintaining the tradition of the program. The Flyers are in the playoffs for a 21st time in 25 years, and have won at least one playoff game in 16 of those 21 seasons while averaging 10 wins per season in that same stretch.

“It’s fun obviously, but it doesn’t just come with ease,” Stieber said. “You have to work for it. You have to help others and focus on the team aspect part of it to get the team better.”

A first team selection to the North Central Ohio Coaches Association and All-Firelands Conference Academic team, Stieber is expected to be a strong contender to the All-FC and Northwest District teams as well. 

Getting those accolades won’t remove the chip on Stieber’s shoulder, however.

“I think there always is — it will always be there,” he said. “You have something to prove to others and show them what you can do ... to always go out there and give your all. And as long as you give your full effort in practice and games, you can be be happy with those efforts.”

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