Features | Friday Night Drive

Loyola ready to start season against Ohio powerhouse St. Xavier on ESPN

Loyola quarterback Jake Stearney (15) passes the ball during the second quarter of the football game at Loyola Academy High School on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Loyola didn’t need much motivation to start the season after falling in the Class 8A semifinal last year, but when the Ramblers host St. Xavier (Ohio) on Aug. 28, there will be an added element.

ESPN will broadcast the game.

“We’re really excited and ready to put on a show,” Loyola defensive lineman Brooks Bahr said. “We have had a chip on our shoulder ever since last year and we’re just ready to show what we can do.”

The national broadcast will be part of the GEICO ESPN High School Football Kickoff that features seven games between Aug. 25-27 and will pin two of the top Midwest high school programs against each other. St. Xavier has won four Ohio Division-I state titles since 2005, most recently in 2020, while Loyola has won three total state titles, two since 2014.

Playing an out-of-state opponent to start the season isn’t new for the Ramblers. In 2019, Loyola started the year against St. Ignatius (Cleveland) and hosted Marquette University (Wisconsin) to begin last season.

Loyola has been through the routine of playing a team that they might not be familiar with and the Ramblers know how important preparation work is for a season-opening game like this is.

“We’ve played teams from out of state, we know what they’re like,” Jack Fitzgerald said. “Needing that first game and being able to shake off that rust and hit the ground running will be very important.”

Many players are looking forward to what might be their only opportunity to play live on ESPN, but they’re not treating the game any differently. They know that there will be more of an emphasis put around this game since fans from across the nation will be watching.

But the stands will be packed just as they are any other Saturday, especially during the postseason, and the Ramblers know they can’t let the moment become too big.

“It’s just another game,” quarterback Jake Stearney said. “Sure it’s going to be broadcast live, the stands will be packed, but it’s just another game. We treat everything the same.”

Loyola will get to do some scouting on St. Xavier since the Bombers start their season a week earlier, but the Ramblers will try to put everything together before their season opener. The team returns three starters from last season’s defense and will feature an experienced offense that has some new faces.

Most teams face some adversity in the first game of the season as they try to figure out what they can and can’t do, which is why Loyola coach John Holecek wants his players to keep things in perspective when they open the year on national TV.

“I want us to be prepared and don’t want us to be embarrassed, but the ultimate goal is the playoffs and state championship,” Holecek said. “We’ve got to keep it in perspective. It’s big, it’s important.”