All the pieces fell into place for Loyola during the spring. The Ramblers were experienced, smart and talented. They weren’t significantly challenged after the season opener at St. Rita.
Loyola began and finished the season at No. 1 and senior running back Vaughn Pemberton was the Sun-Times Player of the Year.
The one downside of so much senior experience is that it inevitably graduates. Coach John Holecek has to replace 16 starters.
“It feels like we could have another month of preseason and I’d be fine with it,” Holecek said. “Last year we had a ridiculous amount of time. This is going back to square one.”
There is a silver lining. The Ramblers’ Class of 2021 was so dominant that the backups received some significant playing time last season.
Junior Jake Stearney, the new starter at quarterback, flashed his big arm against Phillips.
“He’ll make a couple mistakes but man, he’s poised and fast and he’s got a good arm,” Holecek said. “He can throw it so hopefully our receivers are healthy enough that he can get some open targets.”
Senior running back Marco Maldonado has been in the ball-carrying rotation for several seasons. Receiver Danny Collins is also back along with two experienced offensive linemen, senior John Michael Talanges and junior Michael Kostantonov.
Those are all the pieces necessary for an effective offense. There are more questions on defense, where the only notable returners are lineman Mike Williams and linebacker James Kreutz.
“Kreutz is unbelievably, perfectly suited [for linebacker] he could be a breakout all-stater right away,” Holecek said. “I don’t know why he doesn’t have scholarship offers. He’s very destructive.”
Holecek, a former NFL linebacker, has shown that he will get the defense into shape during the season. So if Loyola can put points on the board the sky is the limit. That’s been an effective formula for several seasons and it could be the case again this year.
Senior Will Maheras, a Yale recruit for lacrosse, has opened eyes this summer in practice.
“He’s going to be a pretty darn good corner and we have some other kids that are playing well. It’s just experience and meshing. They are heady kids but we will see what happens. Are we going to be able to match up with [St. Rita senior] Kaleb Brown? I mean, no one is. But can you limit him?”
Loyola’s schedule is punishing, with early games against experienced conference opponents St. Rita and Brother Rice and a Week 9 matchup against a promising young Mount Carmel team that should be dangerous by October. The Ramblers are still looking for a Week 2 opponent.
“Last year’s team was phenomenal and we obviously aren’t up to that level yet but we have potential,” Collins said. “There’s a week before the first game and then nine weeks to get better. We will keep working and see where we are in November.”
Aug. 28 vs. Marquette, Wis.
Sep. 11 vs. St. Rita
Sep. 17 at Brother Rice
Sep. 24 at Fenwick
Oct. 2 vs. Marist
Oct. 9 vs. Providence
Oct. 15 at St. Patrick
Oct. 22 at Mount Carmel