First down: Loyola’s football program had a special guest at the school Monday. Former NFL coach Marv Levy spoke to a select group of players as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Heart of a Hall of Famer series. Levy said preparation and resiliency are two qualities that form the foundation of championship teams. He also said he considered character to be as important as talent when building a roster. Among the Ramblers in attendance were senior captains Jack Badovinac, Jake Marwede and Anthony Romano. Juniors Quinn Boyle and Anthony Rodriguez as well as sophomores Jake Gonzalez and Noah Jones also took part in the program. Badovinac, who had the first question, asked Levy how do teams which have experienced success prevent complacency. Levy told him it’s OK to celebrate for a short while, but the great teams go back to work right away. It was an appropriate question given the Ramblers won the Catholic Blue championship Friday with their 48-37 win over Brother Rice and begin defense of their Class 8A state title at 2 p.m. Saturday when they host O’Fallon. Levy, a Chicago native and current resident of the city, is best known for coaching the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls. He coached Loyola head coach Holecek for three seasons from 1995-1997.

Second down: Among all the good that happened Friday — Catholic Blue championship, undefeated regular season, earning top seed in Class 8A bracket — one bit of bad news was when junior running back and leading rusher Hamid Bullie went down with a possible injury to his right knee on Loyola’s first series of the game. During a 21-yard gain, Bullie made a cut and immediately fell to the ground without contact. He was helped off the field and spent the remainder of the game on the sideline on crutches with ice on his knee. Bullie said following the game he was planning to get an MRI this week. As of Monday, there was no word on his status. “That hurts us,” Holecek said after the game. “He’s a heck of a back.” Bullie entered Week 9 with 585 yards on 85 carries and seven rushing touchdowns. He ran three times for 25 yards against Brother Rice. Senior running back Kyle Rock, who splits starting duties with Bullie, finished the Friday’s game with 18 carries for 116 yards and one TD. For the season, Rock has gained 652 yards on 103 carries and has scored 12 TDs.

Third down: A defining play in Friday’s game came when Holecek called for a fake punt early in the fourth quarter with his team trailing 37-34. On fourth-and-6 from Brother Rice’s 43, senior punter Mark Nicholson took the snap, ran forward and tossed a pass over the middle to wide open junior tight end Alex King (pictured above), who gained 33 yards. Marwede ran the ball on the next two plays, scoring from two yards out to give Loyola a 41-37 lead with 9 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. “Had that in the pocket for a little bit,” Holecek said. “You know me, I love fake punts.” King has quietly contributed to Loyola’s offense in his first varsity season. He had his most productive game Friday, catching three passes for 52 yards. His three receptions matched his season total. “He’s anchored our tight end spot,” Holecek said of the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder. “He’s a thick, strong kid. He’s just scratching the surface of his potential.”

Fourth down: There is no question to the strength of the Class 8A bracket this season. There are seven undefeated teams, 10 teams with one loss and only two that are 5-4. One of the once-beaten teams is Brother Rice. A few plays away from being the No. 1 seed, the Crusaders are No. 8. If they and the Ramblers each win their first two games, they could meet again in the quarterfinals. “They are an unreal team,” Marwede said. “Props to team. That’s a great football team we played.” Loyola’s road to Champaign could include teams with no fewer than one loss. Potential Loyola semifinal opponents are Homewood-Flossmoor (9-0), Oswego (9-0), Edwardsville (8-1), Neuqua Valley (8-1) and defending Class 7A state champion Glenbard West (7-2). A team on the bottom half of the bracket is Oak Park-River Forest (7-2), which is coached by John Hoerster, son of former Loyola head coach John Hoerster.

Photo credit: Geoff Scott