Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In the words of John Hoerster...

...Loyola's winningest coach ever, “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

No post on Loyola would be complete without at least one mention of the legendary Hoerster:

Driven and demanding, electric with an energy that lifted and inspired, John E. Hoerster resurrected Loyola’s moribund football program, guiding his men to a state championship title, a state final, and two state semi-finals during an unprecedented four-year run. With his trademark enthusiasm, commitment, and good humor, he likewise invigorated Loyola’s athletic directorship. John lived and breathed football. His knowledge of the game, his sure command of the X’s and O’s, was absolute and complete. A master of defensive football, John understood that a disciplined, aggressive, meticulously prepared defense would keep Loyola in contention in any game. The thoroughness of his game preparation was unrivaled, his ability to break down film legendary. Nothing was taken for granted. Yet he proved equally adept at making mid-game adjustments on the field. He was, above all, an inspiring teacher of football whose passion for the game was a lesson in itself. John’s record of accomplishment is long and impressive. He was an All-State, All-American offensive lineman at St. Rita and an award-winning, three-year starting guard at Northwestern. After fifteen seasons as an assistant coach to mentor Tom Winiecki at Gordon Tech, John came to Loyola. In his sixteen seasons at the helm, he led the Ramblers to 133 wins against 57 losses, a seventy percent winning record. A state title (1993), a state finalist (1992), two state semi-finalists (1990, 1991), four Catholic League North Section titles (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993), three Prep Bowl titles (1988,1995,1996), and twelve playoff qualifying teams – the list is indeed an impressive chronicle of achievement. Named the Chicago Catholic League’s Man of the Year in 1990, the Catholic League Coach of the Year in 1991, the Frank Leahy Prep Coach of the Year in 1992, and the National Football Foundation High School Coach of the Year in 1991 and 1992, John fulfilled a dream with his induction into the Catholic League’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

It's in Hoerster's memory that the Loyola scouting report continues:

Scheduling perennial power Maine South as a Week Two non-conference game was a bold move. It shows Coach Holecek and his Ramblers fear no team. But, this is such a heated rivalry (meetings between the two schools have been physical, chippy affairs late in the IHSA playoffs) that anything can happen. Loyola once again has arguably the toughest schedule in the state.

And as for that Week Nine game against Mount Carmel:

It’s the best rivalry in all of Illinois High school sports – and this year, the Caravan have to play in Sachs Stadium. A Loyola vs. Mt. Carmel finale just screams, “CCL Championship on the line.” In fact, the league title has essentially been decided by this game for the past five years. The highlight of this battle over the last decade has been the chess match between Frank Lenti, architect of a dynasty that has won 12 IHSA championships, and John Holecek, the defensive mastermind, and the man behind Loyola football’s third golden era.

Lenti’s name is in the record books with this gaudy number: 384 wins, a state record. He's had the most prolific coaching Illinois prep football has ever seen. Last year, with his team’s back against the wall, he took the Caravan to its 29th straight playoff appearance -- and the IHSA semifinals. He won consecutive state titles in 2012 (8A) and 2013 (7A).

One the other side is John Holecek -- the NFL blue-blood who resurrected Loyola’s program -- and with a record of 96-24 -- his winning percentage as Loyola's head coach is above 80 percent. Nine of his 24 losses came in his first two seasons, 2006 and 2007. I have no doubt if he coaches as long as Lenti, he'll own the all-time victory mark.

While we're at it, what other Loyola records are in danger of falling?

Senior running back Dara Laja is not only running for his senior season, he’s making a run at the record book. Loyola’s most sacred athletic title – the all-time leading rusher – is within his grasp. He’s about 500 yards away from Pat Naughton’s mark of 2,142, and -- barring injury -- he could have the record anywhere between Week Four and Week Six. Running backs coach Ryan Gallagher, himself one of the top ten running backs in the history of the program says Laja’s has the potential to be “the most impactful position on the field, but I’m biased.”

Naughton, who is the varsity wide receivers coach, recently said Laja provides a different dimension for the offense. “He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball,” Naughton said. “We haven’t had a player like that since Adrian Autry.” Jack Spellman held the record for 30 years, Pat Naughton for 20 years. This is a generational record, and it should be fun watching history unfold with Naughton and Gallagher on the sidelines. Naughton’s place in the record books seems secure – his single season rushing record of 2,005 yards is not likely to be broken in the modern era of pass-first football.

Next: One last look (I promise!) at a few more Loyola coaches of yesteryear.

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