Super 25 countdown: LoyolaLoyola's Malcolm Weaver throws a deep pass during their IHSA playoff game against Maine South on Saturday. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 17, 2011 10:42AM
It may be a new season for Robert Delaney and his Loyola teammates, but the old one is never far from their minds.
The Ramblers have consistently held their own in the rugged Catholic League Blue and the IHSA playoffs. Somehow, though, the infrequent losses linger longer than the many wins. Take last year’s season-ender, a 29-22 defeat to eventual state champ Maine South in the Class 8A semifinals.
“It’s kind of ridiculous how much it motivates us,” said Delaney, a returning senior starter on the offensive line. “The game has been on TV, we still watch highlights from that game. We started working (to improve) the day after we lost. ... We’re tired of losing. We have the ability to win state and we haven’t yet. It’s something we want to do really badly.”
The hope in Wilmette is that this is the year Loyola – ranked 13th in the Sun-Times preseason Super 25 – breaks through after losing to Maine South three straight years in the playoffs, the last two in the state semifinals.
Sixth-year coach John Holecek, who has guided the Ramblers to three consecutive 11-win seasons, doesn’t doubt his team is fired up. “They’re definitely hungry,” Holecek said. “Does that mean they can live up to those levels of the last few years? That remains to be seen.”
What seems clear is that Loyola could have a different identity this fall. “We’re usually a defensive team,” said Delaney, a 6-foot-3, 245-pounder who has a scholarship offer from Yale. “I think we’re going to be an offensive team.”
Credit that to the number of veterans, especially at the skill positions. Senior quarterback Malcolm Weaver (5-11, 180) returns, along with some capable targets such as seniors Marquese Martin-Hayes (6-0, 190) and Charlie Dowdle (6-3, 195).
“He looks really quick,” Holecek said of Weaver. “If those vertical threats aren’t there, he can scramble with the best of them. I love his mobility.”
Weaver isn’t the only Rambler who can move the chains with his legs. Running back Willie Palivos “is very elusive and very quick,” Holecek said. “I’m not worried at all at that position.”
Some of the players to watch on the other side of the ball include defensive backs Luke Ford, Scott Suhey and Robert Dooley, and linebackers Daveed Carter Michael Paloian. “We don’t think the defense will be a liability,” Holecek said.
The fact that the Ramblers often have a high turnover in terms of starters isn’t a problem, as the team’s recent success has demonstrated. “Maybe it’s our schemes and just experience,” Holecek said. “Junior year is a learning year. Senior year is when people grasp it quickly.”
And the Ramblers do have to get up to speed quickly. Their first three games are at 2010 playoff qualifier Evanston and then home against two-time defending Class 5A state champ Montini and Catholic League newcomer Lake Forest Academy, which has one of the state’s top prospects in lineman Faith Ekakitie.
“Our schedule is brutal,” Holecek said. “Picking up Montini doesn’t help.”
But in fact, playing the Broncos could benefit the Ramblers if it helps them reach their postseason goal.