Vito Cannizzaro is a hero among defensive linemen everywhere after the 6-foot 240-pound senior intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown in Loyola’s 51-8 win over Leo in Week 7. He’s part of a defense that has allowed 18 points in the last three games, including 10 to two Catholic Blue opponents.

 

Maroon & Gold: How often do you think about that play?

Vito Cannizzaro: It is something I always envision before a game. [Loyola head coach John] Holecek always tells us to get our mental reps in before a game. He tells us to visualize what you want to do. From the start of the year, that was something I visualized and dreamed about. For it to actually happen is awesome.

M&G: Do you have footage of it?

VC: I do. It’s on my iPhone and iPad. But it’s not something I want to brag about. But if it comes up in a conversation, I can show somebody (laughs).

M&G: Friday’s game is big. Both teams are undefeated. Winner gets the Catholic Blue championship and the No. 1 seed in Class 8A. Can you describe how excited you are about playing this game?

VC: Friday is also my 18th birthday. Just thinking about this game gives me goosebumps right now. Our coaches always say big players make big plays in big games, so I want to do whatever I can to help the team. It’s actually hard to talk about.

M&G: Loyola’s 30-plus mile bus ride from Wilmette to Brother Rice in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood of Chicago is no fun on Friday afternoon. What’s the best way to deal with the trip?

VC: It helps that we get snacks, sandwiches and drinks from the wonderful team moms who have been so great to us all year. For the first 30 minutes of the ride, Holecek will go over film with us. He will show us all the big plays they’ve made and have us visualize how we would stop them. The rest of the trip I will listen to music and fall asleep.

M&G: Is it hard to get ready to play a game after a long bus ride? How do you prepare yourself?

VC: We stretch, and we will watch the sophomores play. The coaches want us to always be moving, drinking water or Gatorade. They want us to get into the mindset of playing a game.

M&G: You told me you were on the B team as a freshman. Now you are a starting defensive lineman for an 8-0 team that is the defending Class 8A state champions. How did you get here?

VC: Loyola has the best workout program in all of high school sports. I just dedicated myself to becoming better. I was given an opportunity as a sophomore to play and contribute to the team. That showed me what I can do if I worked hard. I’ve looked up to guys like [senior offensive lineman] Jack [Badovinac]. He’s someone who’s always making himself better. I’m always talking with [senior defensive lineman] Omar [Mendez], who is a good friend of mine. We talk about game plans all the time. A lot of it is mental. It’s about wanting to put in the effort to do the work.

M&G: Vito Cannizzaro sounds like an old-country Italian name. Is your family from Italy?

VC: My dad is 100 percent Italian. His parents are from Sicily. My mom is not Italian at all. My grandma, my dad’s mom, had her 100th birthday in April. She lives next to us.

M&G: What’s the best Italian restaurant near your house?

VC: Monastero’s. My dad worked there when he was young. We go there a lot, and they are family friends. It’s good food. I love the arancini.