For a player who was seven days away from his first varsity start at quarterback, Loyola senior Tommy Herion looked at ease during Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage.
Outfitted in his protective red No. 12 jersey, the 6-foot-1, 183-pound Herion took about 10 snaps before retiring to the bench for the rest of the game. It is impossible to predict how his on-field performance will translate into real games, but he displayed the temperament teams want from players in high-profile positions.
Herion will be under center when the defending Class 8A state champion Ramblers open their season Friday against Marquette University in Milwaukee. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Once Herion’s day was done last Friday, he stalked the sideline, seemingly talking to everybody wearing a uniform. He tapped helmets, slapped shoulder pads and gave high-fives. A smile rarely left his face.
When he finally got settled, he situated himself with the team’s other quarterbacks and turned his attention to the rest of the scrimmage.
“This was a dry run for a game,” he said. “I definitely wanted to keep it laid back. We want to be focused on what we are doing, but we don’t want to be nervous or tense.”
Herion transferred to Loyola from Notre Dame before his junior season. Illinois High School Association rules prohibited him from dressing out for varsity games last year, but that didn’t stop him from participating in the program. He learned the playbook and system as quarterback for the scout team. He spent game days on the sideline next to Loyola offensive coordinator Tyler Vradenburg, wearing a headset, signaling in plays and soaking up as much information as he could.
“He never never whined once about not being able to play last year,” Vradenburg said. “I think the boys appreciated and respected that about him.”
This year, Herion beat out junior Quinn Boyle, the backup to 2016 graduate Emmett Clifford, for the starting position. Loyola head coach John Holecek said it was a good competition between the two signal-callers.
“He snuck above Boyle,” Holecek said. “[Herion’s] a little bit more physical, a little faster, has a little more arm strength. Both are good players, and I have confidence in both of them. That is what will help us a ton.”
In recent seasons, quarterback has been a strength for the Ramblers. Malcolm Weaver was the starter when they took second in Class 8A in 2011. Jack Penn led Loyola to a runner-up finish in 2013, and Clifford was at the wheel when the Ramblers captured their first state championship since 1993 in November. All three were instrumental in Loyola’s successes, and all three went on to play in college.
“Quinn is a phenomenal quarterback, and the competition was good,” Herion said. “But it was tough because we are good friends. I definitely benefitted from it. He pushed me every day and made me focus on what I needed to do. He had the experience, so I had to get better at that. He’s been a great teammate.”
Vradenburg said Herion has all the physical tools a coach wants in a quarterback. In a report earlier this year, Tim O’Halloran, a Chicagoland-based recruiting expert, was impressed with Herion’s arm strength as well as the confidence he has in throwing the ball. According to Vradenburg, what was left was for Herion to get up to speed on his knowledge of the offense.
To that end, Vradenburg said Herion possessed the desire and dedication to improve himself in every way.
“He’s worked tirelessly in the offseason because he wanted it so much,” Vradenburg said. “He watched film, asked for one-on-one meetings with me. He asked a lot of questions, and that is what you want. That’s how you learn. He’s still getting there, but I am proud of the progress he’s made.”
Senior receiver Jack Martinus is a childhood friend of Herion’s. Both grew up blocks away from one another on Chicago’s Northwest Side and played football together at St. Juliana. Martinus, who’s been at Loyola since his freshman year, said Herion immediately fit in with the Ramblers.
“Everyone likes him,” Martinus said.
Since a young age, Martinus said Herion always was the one who took charge, who organized the team’s activities.
“He’s a natural,” Martinus said. “He’s approachable and likable, but he also knows when it’s time to lead. I’m ready to play with him again. It’s always fun to play with your best friends.”
More often than not, the quarterback is the face of the football team, and Herion said he understands his responsibilities. He talked about being smart and allowing his teammates to do their jobs and help him out. He said he realizes a Loyola quarterback doesn’t have to do everything by himself for the offense to be successful.
“I know I have players around me that will make me better,” he said.
School started Tuesday, and the clock is ticking. Soon Herion will take his first snap. He said he’s ready for the challenge.