In Anthony Zehyoue’s first season as Loyola Blakefield’s football coach in 2017, the Dons went 2-9 overall and 0-7 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, including blowout losses to Archbishop Spalding, Mount Saint Joseph, McDonogh and St. Frances.
Loyola has won seven MIAA A Conference titles, most recently in 2008, but went 9-41 overall from 2009-2017. Loyola temporarily dropped its football program from the conference after the 2017 season, citing a competitive disparity between the Dons and the rest of the league. As such, Loyola played an independent schedule in 2018 and has done the same in 2019.
So far, the Zehyoue-led rebuild is on schedule; the Dons went 6-4 in 2018 and have posted an 8-1 mark this year. But there’s one more task at hand for Loyola in 2019: winning the Turkey Bowl for the first time since 2013. Calvert Hall has won nine of the last 10 Turkey Bowl matchups, including a 40-7 decision last year.
Loyola enters the 100th Turkey Bowl at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium Nov. 28 having beaten local squads Gilman, Dulaney, Howard, John Carroll and Woodlawn this year. What allowed Loyola to get this point after struggling for so long? For Zehyoue, it started after the 2017 season with a reassessment of what he wanted his players to get out of the program.
“For me, a lot of it was I wanted them to have success winning, I wanted them to have fun, but I also wanted them to do things that were really memorable,” Zehyoue said on The PressBox High School Football Show Nov. 25. “I try to build everything we do in our program around those kinds of major aspects and ideas.”
Zehyoue’s squad has a chance to do something memorable against Calvert Hall in front of a packed house. The Dons are led by junior quarterback Jordan Moore, who’s thrown for 2,014 yards and 26 touchdowns on 58.2 percent passing while running for 606 yards and seven scores. Behind the play of Moore, Loyola has scored 391 points this season, an average of 43.4 per contest.
Moore’s leading receiver is Keegan Pross, who’s hauled in 41 catches for 631 yards and nine touchdowns. Noah Bull (24 catches, 333 yards, four touchdowns) and Ben Schleiff (22, 315, four) are the Dons’ second- and third-leading receivers. Running backs Kaire Umoja (424 yards, eight touchdowns) and Micah Robinson (387, five) have pitched in on the rushing attack.
Loyola has allowed 147 points on the season, an average of 16.3 per contest. The Dons have racked up 32 sacks, with Joshua Buck (9.0), Umoja (8.0) and Cian Callahan (7.5) accounting for much of that production. Loyola has also grabbed 18 interceptions on the year, with Bull coming away with four and Micah Robinson nabbing three.
The Dons, however, haven’t played since they beat Largo, 47-12, Nov. 2.
“Our preparations are going just fine. We’ve had a long time between games,” Zehyoue said. “Everybody’s starting to get pretty antsy to play the game not only because of its historic significance but we also haven’t played a football game in three weeks. We’ve been trying to stay sharp and stay competitive, but it’s hard to do when you don’t play for a long time.”
But getting to this point — with productive players up and down the roster and a chance at a nine-win season — was a process. Zehyoue explained he brought in “fantastic” assistant coaches and worked to ensure the coaches, players and parents were all pulling in the same direction.
“Now there are so many people that are willing to help us out and make recommendations and go the extra mile,” Zehyoue said. “It’s just awesome to see the total buy-in from parents, administrators, from our coaches, our players. It’s been really cool to witness.”
For Zehyoue, a Baton Rouge, La., native who played at LSU in 2007, that connection in the school community was demonstrated rather poignantly recently through an email he received from a Class of 1956 Loyola graduate who wished him well and thanked him for coaching the Dons.
“I just take it as an honor because I know I didn’t go to Loyola Blakefield,” Zehyoue said. “I’m not originally from Baltimore. But I’ve been really welcomed by the members of our school community, and emails like that make you feel good.
“Sometimes when you take a job like Loyola Blakefield with so many proud alumni, you just want to make sure that you’re doing the best that you can because there are a lot of people who care very deeply about it. It’s reminded me to just always keep giving my best and continue to work because it impacts a lot of people.”
For more from Zehyoue, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Loyola Blakefield