The 106th season of Saint Ignatius football will start in a unique way – playing an Illinois foe in Indiana.
The Wildcats have played in Indiana just twice before and have never played an Illinois team. Then again, the 2019 schedule is not your ordinary slate of games, it’s a grueling 10-game schedule filled with champions and nationally ranked foes.
Saint Ignatius will meet Loyola Academy, a fellow Jesuit school, in Michigan City, Indiana at Ames Field for a season-opening showdown on Saturday at 2 pm Eastern / 1 pm Central (Michigan City is on Central time).
The game features two perennial powerhouses – the Wildcats have won 11 OHSAA Division I State Championships, the Ramblers have captured 3 Illinois state crowns, including Class 8A titles in 2015 and 2018. Both teams have legendary coaches, too, in Chuck Kyle ‘69 and John Holecek, a former NFL linebacker.
"They’ve got a great tradition in football," Coach Kyle said. "The Chicago Catholic League has a great reputation amongst colleges. Those colleges come in and talk about the Chicago Catholic League, so it’s good competition. That obviously raises the bar to prepare. We’ve never had the chance to play a CCL team because of scheduling, distance, and other factors. It’s unique – both teams needed a game, so we’re meeting in Indiana and playing it. There’s a lot of buttons to push to get these things worked out.
“We exchanged a couple games from last year so we can practice," Kyle continued. "You can tell they have some great schemes, offensively and defensively. It’s a playoff-caliber game. That demands both teams to come out ready. There’s no having a game or two to get used to the season. We play a very high caliber game out of the gate. It’s good for both teams. You want to win, but a good opponent will force you to be better, and if you lose, you learn about your team. It is nice to learn where things need to be tightened up."
Each team returns plenty of talent and unproven, promising young players. The Wildcats have the edge in experience, but the first matchup between the two schools will likely be a great battle.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. LOYOLA ACADEMY DEFENSE
Leading the way for the Wildcats is senior quarterback Griffin Hanna. He will be making his first start after serving as the backup last year. Hanna has wowed coaches in camp, showcasing a live arm and quick feet. He’s a smart player who can read defenses well and rarely makes mistakes.
James Crosby and Jack Welcsh will split the carries, with Mike Simcak featuring in, too. Crosby is the team’s speed back, Welcsh is the power back, and Simcak offers a combo of athleticism and strength.
Connor Cmiel is the top wideout, but options abound. Look for senior tight end Sam Daugstrup and senior wideouts Henry Cook and Domenic Fabe to haul in plenty of passes.
The offensive line is a strength with Nick Schwitzgebel, Tony Georges, and Owen Keane returning from starting roles last season. Promising newcomers Gus Salopek and Ashton Montgomery will look to gel with the unit.
Loyola’s defense is largely devoid of veterans. The Ramblers return just one starter with significant experience – captain Luke Desherow. The 6’5, 225-pound defensive end (5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss in 2018), along with senior lineman and captain Christo Kelly, will anchor the front seven.
Other players to watch are senior middle linebacker Anthony Kozlowski, senior cornerback Kyle Zupec and junior cornerback Artis Benjamin.
As a unit, Loyola liked to utilize man coverage on defense last year, but are not afraid to mix it up. The Wildcats will trot out different formations early in the game to see how the Ramblers react on defense.
"It’ll be interesting to see what kind of looks they give us," Kyle said. "We’ll have to look at various formations during the first few series to see what their theory is behind it because we can’t tell how many guys they’ll send out for against a spread formation, what kind of blitz packages will they have. There is a lot that will transpire, and there will be a lot for us to analyze early on.”
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. LOYOLA ACADEMY OFFENSE
For the first time in five seasons, the Ramblers will send out a quarterback to start the season who has no varsity snaps. Junior Perrion McClinton will open the year as the starter. At 6’2, 170 pounds, McClinton is young but talented, with nine college offers and a high recruit ranking. McClinton has good legs and a strong arm.
McClinton’s top returning weapon is senior running back Trevor Cabanban who rushed for 586 yards and 4 touchdowns last year. Wideouts Aidan Brownlee, Zach Boylen, and Owen Boos form the receiving core. Matt Mangan is a leader at tight end, as the captain tallied 23 receptions for 285 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2018.
The strength of the Loyola offense is its big men up front. The Ramblers return three starters – senior Christo Kelly, senior Peter Gianaris, and junior Josh Kreutz. The trio have helped the youngsters on the team grow and develop. Kelly is a Holy Cross commit who will be key this year.
“Offensively, they’re well-rounded. They throw the ball and run the ball well, they can hurt teams either way," Kyle said. "You can’t just load up on one phase of the job. They keep you off-balance. Some of their skills kids are very good. The quarterback, even though he didn’t start last year, impressed a number of college coaches.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats also graduated plenty of playmakers in the offseason, but return a number of playmakers.
Welcsh and Cmiel will play both ways, starting at safety and corner in addition to playing lead roles on offense. Erik Daugenti will start opposite Cmiel at corner, while Merick Hartley and Emmett Hanna will begin the year as starting safeties.
Linebacker is perhaps the strength of the defense, if not the team. Connor Francz will lead the way in Week 1 as a fast and strong outside linebacker. Aidan Conway will make his first start at middle linebacker after a successful hockey season as a defenseman. Aidan Hubbard, Aidan Crummie, and Nick Velotta will all rotate in depending on the situation, too.
Anthony Gerace anchors the defensive line. The big defensive end racked up 26.5 tackles, 6.5 tackles per loss, and 3 sacks last year. Bennett Adler will start across from him at end in the 3-3-5. Max Watters and Rico Levert will be responsible for plugging the middle at nose tackle.
Coach Kyle plans to use special teams as a weapon this year, and with good reason, as Rory McConville and Declan Mangan return as strong-legged kickers. Junior Nate Van Zelst will handle the kicking duties for Loyola.