Senior left tackle and captain Christo Kelly has started on the offensive line since his sophomore season and helped the Ramblers to the Class 8A state title last year. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Kelly is one of three starters back to the line, along with senior left guard Peter Gianaris and junior center Josh Kreutz. A product of St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette, Kelly has verbally committed to play at Holy Cross, where brother and Loyola alum Hugh Kelly (Class of 2019) is a freshman on the football team. The Ramblers open the season Saturday against St. Ignatius, of Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday at Michigan City High School in Indiana. The Wildcats own an Ohio-record 11 state championships.

MAROON & GOLD: You were considered a leader as a junior. Now that you’re a captain, does it feel any different? 

CHRISTO KELLY: It’s really awesome. It was weird at first and definitely an adjustment. But I talked to some of last year’s captains after I was named one to ask them what to expect. They told me to be myself. Once you get into a routine, it becomes easier. 

M&G: What are some things you’ve done so far as a captain? 

CK: During the middle of summer, we had two bad practices in a row. The captains could sense  the team wasn’t giving its all. We called a players-only meeting and told them what it takes to be a champion. The reason we won the state title last year was that everybody eventually bought in. We want to create a legacy. We always say, “How do you want to be remembered?”

M&G: The offense returns six starters, including three on the offensive line, while only one player is back on defense with any significant experience. What does the team need to do to be successful? 

CK: Practice. We need as many reps as we can get. We want to react to a play. When you have to think about what’s happening, that’s bad. Right now, we are only talking about the first game, not about championships. [St. Ignatius] is a good team with a lot of accolades. We are ready for the challenge. We are representing Loyola, but we also are representing all of Illinois.

M&G: The offensive line will be a strength of the team this season. How is the unit looking? 

CK: We are bigger and stronger. Josh is no doubt a Division I player. He really knows how to use his body. Same with Peter. Both are wrestlers, so they know about leverage. We have great  camaraderie, and we are all fighting for the same thing. This is closest team I’ve ever been on.

M&G: For those who don’t know, Josh’s dad is Olin Kreutz, a former longtime offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears. You must consider yourself lucky. 

CK: It’s pretty cool. I’m a Bears fan, and they are the exact same player. Josh goes hard until the whistle. His dad came in a few times in the offseason to teach us some drills and help us with our technique. He’s an intense guy. 

M&G: Junior Perrion McClinton will be the seventh starting quarterback in seven seasons. Is he ready for the spotlight?

CK: To see where he was last year to now is crazy. He’s worked so hard, and I’m so happy for him. He’s much better mentally than he was at the beginning of the summer. He’s not as timid and has a lot more control of the huddle.

M&G: You committed to Holy Cross on Aug. 1. Tell me what it meant to you when your brother got an opportunity to play college football after suffering a season-ending injury before his senior year at Loyola.  

CK: I was at home taking a nap. He woke me up and told me he was offered a roster spot at Holy Cross. I was confused at first, but I got up and hugged him. I was so happy for him after everything he went through last season. It was one of the best moments of my life. 

M&G: What sold you on Holy Cross?  

CK: I went to a camp this summer, and there was so much energy there. It was one of things where I knew it was the right place for me. When they offered me, I saw no point in waiting. It’s a bonus that Hugh is there.