Experienced offensive line leads charge for No. 2 Loyola

The Ramblers have three starters back on the offensive line: junior Josh Kreutz, senior Peter Gianaris and senior Christo Kelly, a Holy Cross recruit.

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Loyola’s Josh Kreutz during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Loyola’s incredible midseason turnaround in 2018 was rare. The Ramblers became just the third school in 45 years to win the largest class state championship after losing three times in the regular season. Maine South did it in 2016 and Naperville Central in 2013.

It’s been an incredible run over the last eight years for Loyola. The Ramblers have played in the state title game six times, winning it in 2018 and 2015.

“Obviously we are very happy with how we have matured quickly after graduating,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “This year with the schedule we have and the fact we have zero returning starters [on defense], it’s going to be a learning process. The experience isn’t there. Instincts aren’t there yet. If we are healthy and keep growing, who knows.”

It’s unlikely any team in the state doubts Holecek’s ability to get his team through that learning process. In fact, the Ramblers’ returning strengths on offense may make this team far more dangerous than last year’s.

Loyola has three starters back on the offensive line: junior Josh Kreutz, senior Peter Gianaris and senior Christo Kelly, a Holy Cross recruit.

“I don’t know the last time Loyola has had two people start next to one another for three straight years [Gianaris and Kelly],” Ramblers senior Matt Mangan said. “Christo is a fantastic player, great kid, great attitude, great leader. He’s able to lead the group and we have a couple of young, big kids.”

Mangan, a receiver, and running backs Tyler Flores and Trevor Cabanban also return on offense.

“If we can run the ball and make it a short game and not turn the ball over then hopefully that is our strong point,” Holecek said.

Mangan and Holecek both see major potential in junior Perrion McClinton, the likely starting quarterback.

“There are three guys competing and I think Perrion gives us the best chance,” Holecek said. “Right now he’s taking it over. He’s a tremendous athlete. He can glide. Again though, limited reps and no varsity. Hopefully the learning curve is fast but there are going to be some growing pains.”

“[McClinton] has gotten so much better,” Mangan said. “I’ve been kinda there with him the entire way. It’s a night and day difference. He’s been working in practice and outside of practice non-stop on his arm. Obviously he has his legs. He’s going to be able to do a lot.”

Mangan is stepping up as a leader.

“Coming back with a really inexperienced group means I’m just trying to do what Rory Boos and some others did last year and lead the younger kids,” Mangan said. “Last year proved that anything was possible. Having three losses early in the season is always really tough.”

If McClinton and the solid running game can keep the offense humming that will give Holecek the time he needs to iron out the defense.

“Replacing [linebackers] Armoni Dixon and Jake Gonzalez is not easy,” Holecek said. “We’re not that big. Our defensive line probably averages 215 rather than 240. We’ll have to mix it up, be smart and we can’t make mistakes. That’s tough when you have guys that are brand new starters and guys that have not seen much.”

The Ramblers may not look like the No. 2-ranked team in Week 1 or even Week 4, but it would be foolish to count them out in November.

Loyola schedule

Aug. 31 vs. St. Ignatius, Ohio in Michigan City, Ind.
Sept. 7 vs. New Trier
Sept. 14 vs. St. Rita
Sept. 20 at Mount Carmel
Sept. 27 at St. Ignatius
Oct. 5 vs. Brother Rice
Oct. 12 vs. Benet
Oct. 18 at Marian Central
Oct. 26 vs. Marist

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