Jack Penn remembers the day back in 2013 when he and some of the other offensive players raced to the film room after a practice to set the stage before Tyler Vradenburg showed up.
Ever since somebody found out Vradenburg was in a Hollywood-produced movie, it’s been a summer rite of passage for the Ramblers to tease him about it.
“We pulled up his scene in Valentine on YouTube and had it ready to go,” said Penn, a 2014 graduate and starting quarterback for the 2013 team that placed second in Class 8A. “[Tyler] came in, and we all were sitting there quiet. I think it was Joe Dixon who pressed play, and we all started laughing. [Tyler] had a big smile. He was a good sport about it.”
Vradenburg, Loyola’s offensive coordinator, is the outsider among the varsity coaches. Six of the nine coaches on staff played for the Ramblers. While head coach John Holecek and defensive backs coach Tim Feldheim didn’t go to Loyola, both are from the Chicago area.
Vradenburg grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, which is a 21-mile drive from Manhattan. He went to high school at Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey, where he played cornerback and receiver. He played college football Pomona-Pitzer, a Division III program outside of Los Angeles.
After college, Vradenburg had an offer to play professionally in Europe, but he decided to stay in southern California to work in the entertainment industry as an actor and writer. His parents, George and Trish Vradenburg, both have jobs in the industry as does his sister, Alissa Vradenburg, and her husband, Michael Sheresky.
Some of Vradenburg’s credits include a role in the soap opera Days of Our Lives and playing a medical student in the 2001 horror flick Valentine that starred Denise Richards. He’s done voice-over work for Burger King and Nintendo.
“It’s a strange business,” said Vradenburg, who’s sold screenplays that haven’t been made.
Then, at a wedding in Chicago, Vradenburg met his future wife, Jeannine Cacioppe. After attempting a long-distance relationship, Vradenburg ended up moving to the Midwest. He was hired at Loyola in 2003 by the late John Hoerster.
“Although I had no connection to Loyola or the Chicago area whatsoever, John [Hoerster] told me I would have blood running maroon and gold in no time,” said Vradenburg, who works as a guidance counselor at the school. “He was right.”
Since his arrival at Loyola, Vradenburg has endeared himself to the Loyola faithful. Holecek, who became head coach in 2006, said it’s refreshing to have someone with Vradenburg’s background on his staff.
“I loved it that he had an outside point of view,” Holecek said. “We both just want to win, and we both want to put our players in the best positions to be successful. I appreciated his outlook and effort immediately. Sometimes, you have to take a step back and get a fresh look once in awhile.”
A program once known primarily for its defenses, Loyola’s offense has become one of the best — and most balanced — in the state under Vradenburg’s direction. Last year’s Class 8A state title team averaged 399.1 offensive yards (198.9 rushing, 200.2 passing) and 39.9 points per game. Through 11 games this season, the team averages 406.0 yards (199.0 rushing, 207.0 passing) and 42.0 points per game.
Gone are the days when the Ramblers relied on their defense and running game to grind out wins. Instead, Loyola has evolved into a dynamic offensive team without losing its defensive identity.
“Tyler has turned himself into one of the best offensive minds at the high school level,” Holecek said. “He had the desire and he put in the hard work. He’s an expert on what he does. It’s been great watching him attack defenses.”
Former Loyola quarterbacks Emmett Clifford, a 2016 graduate, and Penn can attest to Vradenburg’s offensive expertise. Penn was under center when the Ramblers took second in Class 8A in 2013. That offense averaged 30.5 points and 354.4 yards (164.3 rushing, 191.4 passing) per game. All of those numbers increased during Clifford’s senior season a year ago.
“He understands the game so well,” said Clifford, a freshman quarterback at Holy Cross. “He’s a film junkie, and that’s something he instilled in us. A big part of his coaching style is on the mental side. He told us the physical game comes easier when you understand the mental side of it.”
Penn said Vradenburg understood how to put players in positions to succeed. He constantly made tweaks depending on personnel.
“He’s a very smart coach because he puts a lot of effort into it,” said Penn, who played quarterback at Miami (Ohio) for two seasons. “He’s always developing his style and his playbook. My experience playing for him was incredible.”
Vradenburg said he’s culled his style and system from a lot of different sources. He’s made trips to Oregon and UCLA, to name two college teams, to study different offenses. He said he sat in on meetings with former Ducks head coach and San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly and spent time learning from Noel Mazzone, who’s now the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.
“Holecek has always been supportive and has helped me get in front of so many great coaches,” Vradenburg said. “He wants us coaches to learn as much as we can, to always be refining our craft. I have become so much more knowledgeable about the game because of that.”
In no way does Vradenburg believe he’s improved Loyola’s offense alone. He credits assistant coaches Ryan Gallagher, Mike Kotowski and Pat Naughton to the program’s offensive evolution. Vradenburg also praises his players, especially the quarterbacks, for their dedication to the sport.
“All of them make my job so much easier,” Vradenburg said. “It helps having great people around you.”
To his former players, Vradenburg is more than Loyola’s offensive coordinator. Both Clifford and Penn said he was a mentor and now is a friend.
“You could go and talk to him about anything, whether it was football, school or life,” Penn said. “His door was open.”
Vradenburg laughed when he brought up the players’ ritual of showing Valentine during the summer. As long as they do the work on and off the field, Vradenburg said he’s happy to allow them to prank him. In many ways, it means he’s part of the Loyola family.
“At some point in the summer, I expect it to happen,” he said. “But I have fun with it. You have to have fun with something like that.”
Photo credit: Geoff Scott