Loyola’s Joe Joyce isn’t slowed by lack of speed, size

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Joe Joyceis like many of his teammates on theLoyola football team:Even though he lacks someof the physical gifts that major college coaches seem to require, he’s proved himself to be atalented, intelligent high school player.

At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds and without track-star speed, the senior does not not expect to play Big 10 football even though he is considering enrolling at Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

ThroughLoyola coach John Helecek, Joyce has heard that a few smaller schools are interested.

“But I might just end up not playing football,” said Joyce, a Northbrook resident.

That means Saturday’s Class 8A state championship game could be the final one of his career.Joyce —who has 55 catches for 554 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns—had a big hand in Loyola getting to the final weekend as he was one of the heroes in the dramatic semifinal win over Stevenson.

“Joe’s not the tallest or fastest, but he has such good technique,” Loyola junior receiver Owen Buscaglia said. “That’s something I’ve struggled with, and the coaches always tell me to look at [Joyce’s]great routes. He’s got awesome hands and he makes plays that you wouldn’t expect looking at him. He’s very physical and battles on the outside.”

Loyola senior quarterback Jack Pennhas spread the ball around to his pass-catching quartet that also features Buscaglia (57 catches, 662 yards, nine touchdowns), senior receiverFran O’Malley (36,443, two)and senior tight end Joe Dixon (25, 393, three).

The players are close friends and trace their success tothe many hours they spent together over the summer running routes outside of official team activities.

During those workouts in the heat, the players regularly talked about where they hoped to spend their Thanksgiving weekend.

“We always knew whenever we were meeting up to throw, that it was for a common goal, to win a state championship,” Penn said.

That chance arrives at7 p.m. Saturdaywhen the top-seeded Ramblers (12-1) face No. 7 Naperville Central (10-3) in the state title game atNorthern Illinois in DeKalb.

Loyola reached the game with a 15-14 win over Stevenson on Saturday inLincolnshire. With just over a minute remaining in the contest, Penn connected with Joyce for a 15-yard touchdown that brought the Ramblers to within a point.

Holecek’s gutsy decision togo for a two-point conversion proved a good one when Pennthrew toward Joyce, who jumped and caught the ball for the game-winning points.

“I had no doubt when they called that play and rolled out toward Joe, that he would come down with it,” Buscaglia said “That catch, it seemed like he just snagged it out of the sky.”

In addition to marveling at Joyce’s football ability, Buscaglia said Joyce, a second-year starter and one of four team captains, has been an important role model.

“I really look up to him as a person, the way he treats his teammates and has treated me,” Buscaglia said.

Joyce said he’s tried to provide the guidance he received last season from Richie Wehman, who was a star receiver for the Ramblers and now plays at Denison University (Ohio).

“I just saw [Wehman]as the guy with [the] most experience,” Joyce said. “Having him there was helpful for me when I was still learning the little stuff, trying to grasp the plays and the nuances of the offense. Richie helped me a lot.”

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