This time of year is not generally thought of as football season. That is, besides the occasional pick-up game among friends at the local park. But last Sunday, Loyola’s Club Football team scrimmaged against DePaul University on the Sean Earl Field.
This offseason is crucial development time for the Ramblers.
“We practice twice a week, watch film on Thursdays and usually have a scrimmage every Sunday,” said sophomore middle linebacker Robert O’Mullan, the 19-year-old economics major who founded the club last year.
The Ramblers are coming off a winless inaugural season, where they were vastly outscored by their opponents. The early struggles are understandable, though, for the team accepted anyone, whether they had experience playing football or not.
Although more than 100 students signed up to play, during the first week of practice last year only seven people showed up. By the time the games began, the roster size was around 25 to 30, but less than half the players had experience playing the sport in an organized setting. For some, football was entirely new.
“A guy last year didn’t even understand what a tackle was,” said 20-year-old sophomore lineman Juan Basadre, a history and anthropology major. “We were thrown into the fire so quickly.”
The team was basically learning on the fly, taking things one step and one individual at a time. Fortunately, O’Mullan found John Clark, new the team’s head coach. Clark had previously helped coach the Chicago Force, a team from an all-female semi-pro league.
“He’s great at explaining things,” O’Mullan said, “Because he’s familiar with working with players who have never played before.”
With the help of Clark and his coaching staff, as well as captains O’Mullan and Basadre, who both have experience at the high school varsity level, the team saw major growth by the end of the season despite their poor record.
Today, with one full season under their belts, the team’s workouts and practices are going more smoothly. Rule explanation is decreasing and play implementation is increasing. Players are improving at running the correct routes, blocking effectively and understanding defensive positioning.
“The improvement is unbelievable compared to last year,” said 20-year-old sophomore wide receiver and defensive back Michael Novokmet, a sports management major.
There is definitely a more competitive and organized air about the team. The drills the Ramblers ran before their scrimmage against DePaul on April 7 were executed in an efficient manner. The team looked like seasoned veterans compared to the Blue Demons, who failed to score the entire scrimmage.
There is a lot of work to be done, and the two things O’Mullan and Basadre want to improve are conditioning and preparing the less-experienced players for live game play. The hardest aspect of organized football to recreate in practice is how rough the sport is when played at full speed, according to Basadre.
“When [inexperienced players] get in the game they freak out because they’re suddenly getting hit. It’s like getting punched in the face.”
It is, however, only April and there is plenty of time for preparation and improvement. The team plans to continue to meet four times a week until summer. Workouts will be held for all who remain on campus during the break. Finally, the team will have three weeks to prepare in full football gear before the games begin next semester.
Along with a new year comes an incoming freshman class, and O’Mullan is excited about the potential for new talent.
“If we get five football players, we’re set,” O’Mullan said, referring to individuals who played high school football at a varsity level.
Even if they don’t, there is great anticipation for the upcoming season. September couldn’t come soon enough for Novokmet.
“I can’t wait. This season should be a lot of fun!”
O’Fallon’s message to the team for next year is a simple one.
“All I got to say is … strap up.”
by Joaquin Carrig