Kyle Rock took an unusual path to becoming the starting running back at Loyola.
Until his eighth-grade season at St. Mary of the Woods on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Rock played guard on the offensive line. Friday in Milwaukee against Marquette, Rock will be lined up in the backfield for the Class 8A defending state champion Ramblers. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t a very good athlete,” Rock said. “But I hit a growth spurt and had a breakout year in eighth grade. I always wanted to be a skill player, and I worked and strived to be one of the team’s top players.”
Rock rose through the ranks at Loyola, first playing on the freshman team and then on the sophomore team. Last season, he was the backup to Dara Laja, the program’s all-time leading rusher who finished with 1,833 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior. Rock ran the ball 64 times for 233 yards and scored four TDs.
“He’s always been extremely quick and agile,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said. “He has great lateral movement and acceleration. He was just behind Dara, so he wasn’t going to get a ton of carries last year.”
Rock said he tried to do whatever he could to make the Ramblers better last season, even if that meant not carrying the ball.
“What I learned was you can help a team in so many ways,” he said. “You don’t have to be a star to have an impact. It was about everybody pulling from the same end of the rope.”
With senior Tomas Henning’s move from running back to linebacker during the summer, Rock is only returning player to the offensive backfield. He will be joined by senior quarterback Tommy Herion and junior running back Hamid Bullie.
In preparation for his starting role, Rock added 15 pounds to his 5-foot-10 frame.
“I found out last year that varsity football is a whole different game,” Rock said. “I am a grinder and injuries slowed me down a bit last year. I did a lot of work in the weight room to get bigger and stronger, so I could take more of a beating out there.”
Loyola running backs coach Ryan Gallagher said Rock is a scrappy runner with good vision. According to Gallagher, he’s not afraid of contact. Holecek said Rock “sees holes well, and he doesn’t mind putting his shoulder pads down.”
“I have speed, but I am not the fastest,” Rock said. “I consider myself someone who will grind out the yards, get up and do it again.”
Rock said he’s doing his best to mentor the 5-10, 179-pound Bullie, who gives the Ramblers someone in the backfield who can break long runs.
“We are pushing each other to new limits,” Rock said. “I like that competition. It makes us better. Any questions he or Tommy have I am happy to try and answer. Last year was a great blessing, but we have a solid group of guys this year, too. I am excited to get back onto the field.”