Senior Ryan Hagedorn’s assessment of his first season as a varsity starter on the offensive is overwhelming positive.
It would be easy to understand if it wasn’t. After all, injuries have resulted in three starting lineups in three games and has included a revolving door of players. Hagedorn (No. 56 in picture above) is the only player pegged as a starter in the preseason to start all three games.
But the 6-foot, 235-pound center is choosing to be optimistic.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I think we’ve grown up a lot in three games, and we’ve proved a lot, even during that Phillips game. We are getting better, and when we get fully healthy, we are going to good by the time the playoffs come.”
Trouble is, the Ramblers won’t be completely healthy after senior guard Joe Naselli suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee in Week 2. Other starters who have missed game time include senior and Fordham recruit Charlie Gross and senior Joshua Green, who was out for the team’s 31-7 win Saturday over Mount Carmel in the Catholic Blue opener.
“It’s been a M.A.S.H. unit,” Loyola offensive line coach Mike Kotowski said. “We have been constantly shuffling the deck.”
Kotowski said Tuesday it’s likely senior Christopher Betz will start Friday against St. Francis in Wheaton, giving the Ramblers (2-1, 1-0) their fourth starting lineup in four games.
“They’ve been banged up,” senior quarterback and team captain Quinn Boyle said. “But the guys who have filled in have done nothing but step up. We are all brothers.”
While Boyle is considered the overall leader of the offense, Hagedorn is the player on the line everybody counts on, according to Kotowski. The graduate of Glenview’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help was the scout team’s center as a junior.
“He’s a lunch-pail guy and worked himself into being a good player,” Kotowski said. “Mentally, he’s the guy who knows what to do. He’s the brains of the operation on the line.”
Hagedorn, who grew up playing football with Boyle, said he’s comfortable with his role.
“I know the playbook, and I able to help the young guys who have questions,” he said. “Charlie is another one who can help out. He’s a great player and a great guy. It’s good to have him there with me.”
For the first time in his 12 seasons coaching the line at Loyola, Kotowski is playing two sophomores. Both Peter Gianaris and Christopher Kelly have seen significant action in all three games. Kelly also is the team’s long snapper.
“They show flashes,” Kotowski said. “Peter is smart and focused, and he gets the most out of what he has physically. Christo is bigger and more athletic. He has a lot of potential.”
Seniors Marty Geary and Charlie Gilroy are two more who have played on the offensive line this season. Geary is a starting defensive tackle, and Gilroy is a tight end.
Kotowski said Betz deserves recognition. A senior, Betz started the season behind Gianaris and Kelly. But according to Kotowski, he’s never soured on his situation and has been ready to go whenever he’s called upon.
“He’s our unsung hero,” Kotowski said. “He can play both guard and tackle positions, and he will do whatever we ask of him. He’s a selfless guy.”
Developing chemistry is chief among the challenges facing the offensive line, according to Hagedorn. Communication is essential, he said.
“The key to a successful offensive line is knowing what the guy next to you is going to go,” Hagedorn said. “So far, that’s been tough thing to do. But if we can get some stability, I believe we will be a potent unit by the time the playoffs start.”
Photo credit: Geoff Scott