Loyola, the No. 3 ranked team in the preseason Super 25, is the state’s most dependable powerhouse program. The Ramblers have played in the Class 8A state title game in four of the past six seasons. Coach John Holecek finds a way to win regardless of his team’s talent level.
Last season Loyola had several players that earned scholarships to play football in college, including Sun-Times Player of the Year Jake Marwede. That isn’t the case this year.
“The last two years we’ve had a lot of talented, scholarship-level players,” Holecek said. “But for the four or five years before that we didn’t. In 2013 we had one half scholarship to Colgate and I don’t think we had any in 2011. So we are accustomed to having this type of team.”
The lack of high-level talent means the the Ramblers must play with precision and limit mistakes. That’s usually mentioned within the first two minutes of a conversation with any Loyola player.
“No more Jake means that everyone needs to come and play with intensity,” Loyola senior Alex King said. “Mental mistakes just can’t happen. Last year there were a good amount of mental mistakes and that is what led to the sad ending.”
The Ramblers lost to Maine South in the title game last season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them back in the title game this November, but a rash of injuries may make the start of the season challenging.
“If we started the season tomorrow we’d be horrific because of the injuries,” Holecek said. “Seven starters are out including our top three offensive guys. Injuries suck. It’s so frustrating this year.”
Starting quarterback Quinn Boyle will likely miss the first few weeks of the season. Senior Andrew Forsyth, who played a bit in the quarterfinals last year, is one of three contenders to fill in for Boyle.
Loyola may be able to lean on the defense in August and September. Four starters return: lineman Marty Geary, safeties Jake Gonzalez and Charlie Largay and linebacker Anthony Rodriguez.
“Defensively we aren’t bad,” Holecek said. “We lost two really athletic, scholarship athletes at the corners so that is always a concern. And two middle linebackers that started two years in a row are gone. But I like what I’ve seen from the defense.”
The offense contains two possible breakout threats. Senior running back Hamid Bullie, who was injured in October, is close to returning. He was terrific last season. Junior Noah Jones is expected to make a serious impact after he overcomes a minor injury.
“I’m not too worried about the injuries,” Loyola wide receiver James Joyce said. “We have guys stepping up, a lot of young guys.
“There is always a lot of pressure to win here. I’m used to it because of last year. It’s a little more heavy now because we don’t have the same kind of talent but there is the same amount of pressure. But we will be ready for it.”
Loyola’s schedule opens with an immediate challenge: Phillips at Gately Stadium. California powerhouse Bishop Amat visits Loyola in Week 2.
“You feel pressure, but would you rather have a crappy program with no expectations?” Holecek said. “It’s good that the kids have high expectations. Wee might lose a couple of games. But if we are healthy at the end of the year I guarantee no one will want to play us. We might be a completely different team by the end.”
Aug. 26 vs. Phillips at Gately
Sep. 1 vs. Bishop Amat (La Puente, CA)
Sep. 9 vs. Mount Carmel
Sep. 15 at St. Francis
Sep. 23 vs. Fenwick
Sep. 29 at St. Rita
Oct. 7 vs. Leo
Oct. 13 at Providence
Oct. 21 vs. Brother Rice
This is the fifth story in the Sun-Times 2017 Football Countdown series. Here’s what you can expect over the next couple weeks:
Aug. 15: Top 10 defensive players
Aug. 16: No. 4 Waubonsie Valley
Aug. 23: Week 1’s top games
Aug. 24: A capsule look at the Super 25, Top 50 players