FIRST DOWN: A good example of Armoni Dixon’s skill set came on St. Rita’s second series in Loyola’s 34-14 win Friday in Chicago.
On third-and-6, the junior easily blew past blockers on the right side of the line, timed his jump perfectly and knocked down quarterback Jake Zylman’s pass attempt with his chest.
“He’s so quick, long and physical,” Loyola outside linebackers coach Mike Dooley said. “We want to send him after the quarterback.”
In addition to the pass break-up, Dixon (pictured above) had a sack on a third down in the second quarter to force a punt. The Ramblers scored on the ensuing series to go up 21-0.
A multi-sport athlete, Dixon also plays basketball, which helps with his agility on the football field.
“Great talent,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said. “I love his focus and intensity. He needs to get stronger and get more reps, but he’s going to be a big-time player.”
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Dixon looks the part in his first varsity season. The product of Chicago’s Brennenmann Elementary School, Dixon has the potential to be a Division I player, according to Holecek. The coaches were so high on Dixon that he got a tryout with the varsity team before his sophomore year.
“We took a hard look at him, but he wasn’t there yet,” Dooley said. “He wasn’t physical enough. But [Holecek] was convinced we won’t have to worry about him. Now, he’s one of our better kids, no doubt. He can really be something special.”
SECOND DOWN: Senior cornerback John Gierut played his second consecutive game Friday since dislocating his shoulder in Week 1. His return gives the Ramblers two corners capable of locking down opposing receivers. Senior John Lynch showed his playmaking ability last week with two interceptions.
“[Gierut] played well in the preseason, and we are excited to see him back,” Holecek said. “He’s athletic, has speed and great awareness out there.”
In his absence, Loyola had a chance to built depth at the position. Holecek applauded the play of senior Patrick Russell.
“Patrick is a tough kid, and his length is a plus,” Holecek said. “We are confident in our corners, and it’s always good to have a lot of good players at any position.”
THIRD DOWN: Holecek said he was happy with how the defense played in Friday’s win.
The Mustangs entered the game averaging 35.2 points a game, and the Ramblers held them to their lowest total of the season. St. Rita’s strength is running the ball, and Loyola limited the Mustangs to nearly 70 yards less than their per-game average.
“I thought if our guys played to the game plan, we were confident we could do well,” Holecek said. “That’s what happened. We had an excellent week of practice. When St. Rita got out of his offense and started ad-libbing is when they made plays. They have a very good offense with some talented skill players.”
FOURTH DOWN: Senior linebacker Peter Kennedy and junior offensive lineman Joe Naselli each had surgery Tuesday in Chicago to repair ACL injuries. Kennedy was injured in Week 1, while Naselli’s season ended in Week 2. Both were starters.
Kennedy said he already has started physical therapy on his right knee. He said he expects to run again in six months.
“First session went well,” Kennedy said. “I will work on strengthening my [quadricep] and getting back full range of motion. It’s nothing too serious yet. I’m starting off slowly.”
Even though he can’t play, it’s important Kennedy stays connected to the team, he said.
“I’ve been with these guys for four years,” he said. “It’s fun being around them.”
Not only did the injury end his football career at Loyola, Kennedy won’t be able to wrestle, either. But his athletic career might not be over. Kennedy hinted at the possibility of running track in the spring. It’s something he hasn’t done since he was in eighth grade at Deer Path Middle School in Lake Forest.
“I feel like having a goal will help in the rehab process,” he said. “There’s a chance I could wrestle one match to get another varsity letter. We’ll see.”
Photo credit: Geoff Scott