HEAD COACH: John Holecek, 14th season (146-30)

2018 SEASON: 11-3 (2-2 Catholic Blue), beat Brother Rice 13-3 in Class 8A state final

CAPTAINS: Luke Desherow, sr., DL; Christo Kelly, sr., OL (pictured above); Matt Mangan, sr., TE; Jack Nimesheim, sr., DB

RETURNING STARTERS: Trevor Cabanban, sr., RB; Luke Desherow, sr., DL; Tyler Flores, sr., RB; Peter Gianaris, sr., OL; Christo Kelly, sr., OL; Josh Kreutz, jr., OL; Matt Mangan, sr., TE; Nate Van Zelst, jr., K/P

RETURNING STAT LEADERS: Trevor Cabanban, sr., RB (135 rushes, 586 yards, 4 TDs); Luke Desherow, sr., DL (5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble); Tyler Flores, sr., RB (53 rushes, 222 yards, 2 TDs); Matt Mangan, sr., TE (23 receptions, 285 yards, 2 TDs); Nate Van Zelst (14-17 FGs, 35.5 yards/punt)

NOTABLE PLAYERS: Anthony Kozlowski, sr., LB; Jack Nimesheim, sr., DB; Daniel O’Flaherty, sr. DB; Frank Shurer, sr., LB; Kyle Zupec, sr., DB; Artis Benjamin, jr., DB; Owen Boos, jr., WR; Liam Conaghan, jr., LB; Perrion McClinton, jr. QB; Cooper Tamisiea, jr., OL; James Kyle, so., TE

NOTES: The Ramblers are coming off one of the more memorable seasons in program history. After starting the year 3-3, they won eight consecutive games, punctuated by a 13-3 victory over Brother Rice in the Class 8A state final. It was Loyola’s second state title in four seasons and third overall. … While the Ramblers usually lose a majority of their starters, this is one of the biggest rebuilds in recent memory. They return six starters on offense, one on defense and one specialist. None of the quarterbacks on the roster have thrown a varsity pass. … The good news is Loyola welcomes back seniors Peter Gianaris and Christo Kelly and junior Josh Kreutz to the offensive line. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Kelly is verbally committed to Holy Cross. “Christo, Peter and Josh have been a steady presence for us,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said. “They are the strength of our team right now.” … Seniors Trevor Cabanban and Tyler Flores provide depth at running back. Cabanban is in his second year as a starter, but he was instrumental in Loyola’s 2017 playoff run as a sophomore. Flores is coming off a knee injury in Week 5 that ended his season. The Ramblers lost their top three receivers, but senior and college recruit Matt Mangan has the potential to be a go-to target. For the seventh time in seven seasons, the Ramblers will have a new starting quarterback. Perrion McClinton, a 6-2, 170-pound junior, won the job in the offseason. “He’s athletic, has length and has a strong arm,” Holecek said. “I like how our offense is coming together.” … The Ramblers were hit the hardest on defense. According to Holecek, it’s the biggest turnover since the 2010 season. Senior defensive lineman Luke Desherow, a college prospect at 6-5 and 225 pounds, is the only one back who took significant snaps from a unit that recorded three shutouts and surrendered 6.6 points per game during the playoffs. “We need a lot of experience, and there’s no way of getting around that,” Holecek said. “We are going to make mistakes, but we hope to learn from them to get to where we need to be to win championships.” … Some players to watch are senior middle linebacker Anthony Kozlowski, senior cornerback Kyle Zupec and junior cornerback Artis Benjamin. “It’s about getting guys reps,” Holecek said. “They are processing things for the first time, and they aren’t going to get better until they see things over and over again and the game slows down.” … Junior specialist Nate Van Zelst is one of the best place-kickers in the country for his class. His value was clear in the Class 8A state final when he kicked two field goals, including a 37-yarder midway through the fourth quarter, in Loyola’s 13-3 win over Brother Rice. … A new year also brings a new conference after the Catholic League merged with the East Suburban Catholic Conference to form six, four-team conferences. The Ramblers are in the CCL/ESCC Blue, the top division, along with Brother Rice, Marist and Mount Carmel. Other ESCC teams, in addition to Marist, on the schedule include Benet and Marian. Marist made it to the Class 8A semifinals, losing to Brother Rice, and Mount Carmel reached the Class 7A semifinals. “It’s a very difficult schedule, especially throwing a team like Marist in there,” Holecek said. … On the coaching front, longtime assistant and Loyola alum Beau Desherow (Class of 1993) resigned as defensive line coach after he was hired as the school’s Vice President of Admissions and Enrollment. He’s the father of Luke. Beau’s replacement is Pete Distaulo, a former defensive coordinator at St. Ignatius.

KEY GAMES: Like last year, the Ramblers open the season on the road against an out-of-state team. This year it’s a date with St. Ignatius, of Cleveland, Ohio, at Ames Field in Michigan City, Indiana. The Wildcats have won an Ohio-record 11 state titles, the last coming in 2011. In Week 4, Loyola travels to play Mount Carmel on the Caravan’s campus in the CCL/ESCC Blue opener. Mount Carmel beat the Ramblers 17-12 last season. At least right now, no game looms larger than last year’s Class 8A state final rematch against Brother Rice in Week 6 at Loyola. Usually, the Loyola-St. Ignatius football game doesn’t warrant much attention. That changed last year when the Wolfpack nearly upset the Ramblers in Chicago before Loyola pulled off a 21-14 win in overtime. The Ramblers end the regular season at home against Marist. The two teams met in 2017 in the Class 8A quarterfinals, with Loyola beating the RedHawks 30-10 in Chicago. 

THEY SAID IT: “We obviously learned last year that it’s not how you start off but how you finish.” — Loyola head coach John Holecek

Photo credit: Geoff Scott