A new coach, a new era
With the football team’s great reputation, Loyola High School’s new coach has some big shoes to fill.
Taking over for one of the winningest coaches in California high school football history this season, Loyola coach Jeff Kearin said he was "scared to death." Legendary coach Steve Grady had led the Loyola Cubs to the Division I playoffs 28 out of his 29 years coaching. They last won the title in 2003.
After starting the season 4-0 (this story was published after the team’s fourth game), Coach Kearin’s fears have eased.
"We’re getting better every week and we’re staying healthy," said Coach Kearin in an interview after the team’s third victory. "I’m really pleased with how the kids have picked up everything."
Coach Grady surprised the school by stepping down as head coach last spring. Even though Coach Kearin had played for Coach Grady and served as an assistant coach under him, people wondered if he could continue the school’s winning tradition. But that didn’t stop him from making big changes.
Coach Kearin has changed Loyola to a no-huddle offense, and the Cubs have been throwing the ball more than in past years. Coach Kearin and two players said in interviews that the transition to the no-huddle offense has been smooth and productive. Through four games the Cubs are averaging 36.25 points per game. Last year’s team averaged 26.5 points per game.
"It’s definitely more wide open … high-flying action," 16-year-old defensive tackle Vinny Girardi said.
Fabian Munoz, a 17-year-old defensive end, said that he likes Coach Kearin’s attacking style. He said if there were 30 seconds left on the clock before halftime, Coach Kearin would not choose to run out the clock, but would go for extra yards and points.
"I like that he’s aggressive in his play-calling," Fabian said.
Coach Kearin also changed the defense that Loyola had been running since the early 70s to one more popular now at the college level. (He replaced Loyola’s "50" defense with a 4-3.)
"The 4-3 [defense] is working fine," Vinny said. "We haven’t given up that many points."
The Cubs have given up an average of 15 points a game, compared to 10.25 last year.
"It’s still hard-nosed Loyola football," Fabian said.
Grady was ready for a change
After 35 years of coaching at Loyola, Coach Grady said that he felt it was the right time to step down, because he was consumed with football every day from August until December. But that was not the only reason.
"I started feeling the losses," Coach Grady said. "And when we lost a game I maybe took it harder than I should have."
While in charge of the program, Coach Grady said that he wanted to make sure the players were in a position to be successful; however, he wanted the boys to feel they put themselves in that position through their hard work. That hasn’t changed.
For Camp Week, which takes place before the season starts, the players live at school for seven days (sleeping in the gym). Every day begins with a wake-up call and breakfast followed by a morning workout. The team then eats lunch, breaks up into team meetings, and ends the day with another workout.
At the practices the coaches emphasized detail, discipline and intensity. When a player ran a crisp route or made a great block the coaches would hit him on the helmet and yell "that’s Loyola football."
However, when a player didn’t run a drill correctly or made a mental mistake, coaches would get up in the player’s face.
"If that’s the best you can do, then get the hell outta here," Coach Kearin yelled when the offensive line did not block for the quarterback.
"It does help that he is on you all the time and if you do mess up you’re going to get an earful," Fabian said.
Coach Kearin’s commitment to discipline has shown on the field at games and off the field at practices and film sessions, in which players study films of the opposing team to learn how to beat them.
After the 4-0 start, Coach Kearin said that he feels good going into the second half of the season. However, Loyola will soon be facing its toughest competitors in the Serra league, which has powerhouses Mater Dei, Santa Margarita and Bishop Amat.
"I’m kind of hoping we can work out whatever kinks we’ve got … I feel good about where we are. I feel good about where we’re going," Coach Kearin said.