FIRST DOWN: Loyola head coach John Holecek has been involved in football one way or another for most of his life. He played at Marian Catholic, the University of Illinois and eight seasons in the NFL. But Holecek, a former linebacker, said what the Ramblers accomplished this year was special.
After losing three games in four weeks, Loyola stood 3-3. But the Ramblers never lost their resolve. They responded by winning eight games in a row, punctuated by Saturday’s 13-3 victory over Brother Rice in the Class 8A state final at University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Moments after the game ended, Holecek (pictured above) and his son, junior linebacker Jake Holecek, shared a hug on the field.
“Nothing is going to beat this in my career,” John Holecek told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Senior captains Rory Boos and Joe Naselli both were moved by their coach’s declaration, considering his career in the sport.
“It’s crazy to think he said that,” Naselli said. “He played big-time football. But it is a great story, and it’s special to me, too.”
Added Boos, “What he said means everything to me. We worked so hard to turn it around. Once we did, we knew we could make a run.”
Holecek pointed to players like Naselli, an offensive and defensive lineman, for triggering the turnaround.
“He’s the leader,” Holecek told Pioneer Press’ Wilmette Life. “He’s the strongest guy. He’s the most passionate. He’s definitely the heart of the line and the captain. He gets us going. He’s definitely an inspiration and a leader on that line.”
The state title was the second in four years and the program’s third overall. This season further cements Holecek’s legacy in Loyola lore. He’s 146-30 in 13 seasons, and the program’s all-time winningest coach. Under Holecek, the Ramblers have played in six of the last Class 8A state finals and gone as far as the state semifinals nine of the last 10 seasons. No other program comes close to that consistency of success.
“We learned a lot of lessons this year by believing in ourselves and in each other,” Naselli said. “Even though we won it, it still hasn’t fully hit me.”
SECOND DOWN: Luke Desherow was in eighth grade at St. Emily School in Mount Prospect in 2015 when his dad and brother helped the Ramblers capture the Class 8A state championship with a 41-0 win over Marist at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium.
On Saturday, Desherow, a junior defensive lineman, was a major contributor in Loyola capturing the Class 8A state championship. His fumble recovery in the second quarter led to the Ramblers’ first touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“Right place, right time,” said Desherow, deferring most of the credit to senior defensive lineman Eddie Eastman, who forced the turnover.
A varsity rookie, Desherow’s first meaningful snaps were in Week 4 when the Ramblers lost to Brother Rice 35-3. He then became a mainstay in the rotation and made his first start in the postseason opener, 38-14 win over Minooka on the road.
“I always wanted to play football at Loyola,” he said. “I saw how dedicated my brother and dad were, and I wanted to be part of something like that.”
His father, Beau Desherow, is a 1993 Loyola graduate and a linebacker on the Ramblers when they took second place in Class 6A in 1992. A member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, he’s been a coach in the program since 2004. Luke wears No. 85, the same number his dad wore at Loyola.
After the Ramblers lost in the Class 8A state final in 2011 and 2013, Beau finally got his state title in 2015. Making it more memorable was his son, Bobby Desherow (Class of 2016), was a senior captain and starting safety.
Luke was cheering them on in the stands.
“It was a ton of fun to be there for that,” he said.
Bobby, a junior defensive back at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, was at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Although Bobby and Luke weren’t able to connect in person that night, Luke said his older brother sent him a congratulatory text message.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, especially because of my brother and dad,” Luke said.
THIRD DOWN: The Desherow family isn’t the only one to have members win state titles in 2018 and 2015.
Remarkably, there are 13 in all. Boos said sharing the experience with his brother, sophomore receiver Owen Boos, is one he will remember forever.
“We hugged each other right after the game,” Rory said. “That was possibly the last time we will play on the same team. If that’s the case, it was an awesome way to end being teammates.”
Here are the families (with the exception of the Craddocks, who are cousins, the players are brothers):
- Blindt (Jack, 2015; Mike, 2018)
- Blockovich (Brendan, 2015; Luke, 2018; Dylan, 2018)
- Boos (Patrick, 2015; Rory, 2018; Owen, 2018)
- Bourke (Jack, 2015; Daniel, 2018)
- Brownlee (Alec, 2015; Aidan, 2018)
- Craddock (Conor, 2015; Jack, 2018)
- Desherow (Bobby, 2015; Luke, 2018)
- Hough (Jack, 2015; Conor, 2018)
- Largay (Emmett, 2015; Charlie, 2015; Michael, 2018)
- McHugh (Ryan, 2015; Aidan, 2018)
- Moran (Jack, 2015; Matthew, 2018)
- Mullen (Jack, 2015; Jameson, 2018; Braden, 2018)
- Tamisiea (Jack, 2015; Cooper, 2018)
FOURTH DOWN: Much has been made about how the Ramblers went from 3-3 to Class 8A state champions. No doubt the odds weren’t in their favor. Prior to this season, only seven out of a possible 136 teams won a state title with three or more losses since the IHSA expanded to eight classes in 2001.
“It was sweeter to be an underdog and prove people wrong,” Naselli said. “We played with our backs against the wall for the last part of the season.”
Naselli overcame individual adversity, too. As a junior, he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2.
Now that it’s over, Boos wouldn’t change anything about the season. In his two-year varsity career, he’s first on the program’s all-time list for receiving TDs (21) and second in career receptions (97) and second in career receiving yards (1,641).
“I’m fine with those three losses,” he said. “Battling through the adversity makes it more rewarding.”
Photo credit: Margo Grogan