Loyola Blakefield football returns to conference play for the first time since 2017 in the MIAA B Conference

by Nelson Coffin

Loyola Blakefield football’s program could be taking an incremental step toward eventually returning to the MIAA A Conference after joining the B Conference for the first time in school history this season.

At this point, though, no plan is in place to make that happen for a program that left the league following the 2017 campaign to play an independent schedule after consecutive winless seasons in the A Conference.

With speed and athleticism to burn, sophomore Jayden Moore will be a focal point for the Loyola offense, whether he lines up behind center as a quarterback or on the outside as a receiver.

The Dons competed in the A Conference for 23 seasons (1995 to 2017) — and as far back as the 1920’s in the now-defunct Maryland Scholastic Association.

However, being in a conference again means that they can once more compete for a championship.

And that has to mean something for a storied program that was credited with winning eight MSA crowns before claiming three outright and four shared MIAA titles.

“We can add hardware to the trophy case,” said 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior Anto Saka, the Dons’ defensive leader and a Northwestern University commit who will also play tight end.

And that might give Loyola a shove upward toward the A Conference, although Loyola coach Anthony Zehyoue was noncommittal regarding future plans.

“I think the school will evaluate what we look like at the end of the year,” he said. “It’s beyond my pay grade, honestly.”

Nevertheless, the number of players who have shown up for summer practice sessions at Hargaden Field have improved along with a commensurate amount of talent.

Zehyoue has more to work with as the Dons prepare for the season opener against St. Mary’s High School on Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. in Annapolis.

With 100 players split between varsity and the junior varsity, his options have expanded.

“Our numbers are healthier,” Zehyoue said.

Zehyoue said that from a coach’s perspective, having title aspirations again is a strong incentive for the players.

“You have to find different ways to motivate the kids,” he said. “You can tell them, ‘This is what you play for.’”

The Dons are also playing to have fun with an offense that should get a spark from sophomore Jayden Moore, who is likely to be on the field for almost every offensive snap at either quarterback or wide receiver.

“If it’s not one, it will be the other,” Moore said with a big smile.

The 5-foot-9, 165-pound speedster will also field punts and return kicks for the Dons.

“We have a great group of guys,” said Moore, whose sparkling varsity debut last September against St. Paul’s School included a 49-yard TD reception from his brother, Jordan Moore, and a 46-yard toss to Marcus Hines for another score. “We’re finally getting to play for a championship. And we’re hoping to get back to the A (Conference).”

Senior Noah Bull said that while playing an independent schedule was a good experience, playing for a championship “gives you something to strive for.”

Bull said that the Dons started slowly in a recent scrimmage against New Town High School.

“But we have lots of young guys and real talent,” the 6-foot, 200-pound wideout/defensive back said. “We’re looking to develop into a bright team.”

AJ Szymanski, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior tight end/defensive end, said that having a hard copy of a playbook has made it easier to learn schemes.

“Everyone is more aware of what’s going on,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to play for a championship.”

Zehyoue said that he appreciates how hard the players have practiced the last couple of weeks.

“It’s really hot out here,” he said. “But they don’t make excuses. We’re just trying to stack good days. If we have a good practice one day, we try to have a better one the next day.”

Pictured above: The Loyola Dons have been going through preseason workouts with a little extra zip in 2021, knowing they will once again have an opportunity to compete for a football championship as new members of the MIAA B Conference.