Looking to put winning stamp on long career
Brant Hall takes sideline as Loyola’s coach for the last time
Preparing for the 97th annual meeting with archrival Calvert Hall in the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl, Loyola Blakefield football coach Brant Hall has been thinking about a lot more than strategy this week. Not much of his focus has been about this being his final game as the Dons head coach.
“It hasn’t really hit me that it’s going to be the last one,” said Hall, who will be on the field for his 18th Turkey Bowl as a Loyola player or coach.
“I don’t know how I’m going to respond. I get very emotional when it comes to this game. I’m sure there’s going to be a part — probably before the game starts and then when the game’s over — that it’s going to sink in, ‘Hey, this is the last one in terms of me coaching and being up close and personal with the program.’ I’m sure it’ll hurt a little bit because this has been such a big part of me for 20-some odd years.”
Although he will stay on as Loyola’s assistant athletic director, Hall, 36, will step down after 14 years of coaching — the past five as head coach — to devote more time to his young family.
His sons are already big Loyola fans at ages 8 and 5. They can’t wait to ride the team bus to the game at M&TBank Stadium today. When Hall told them he wasn’t going M&T Bank Stadium Today, 10 a.m. TV: Ch. 2 Loyola Blakefield’s Brant Hall, center, is stepping down as coach but will stay on as assistant athletic director. “This has been such a big part of me for 20-some odd years,” he said.
to coach after this year, one of them asked whether that meant they couldn’t go to the game anymore. Hall reassured them they would still go.
After all, Hall has been to every Turkey Bowl since 1993. While playing at Lehigh with a Saturday playoff game ahead, his coach gave the team about a 24-hour Thanksgiving break, so he drove home every year to see the game.
Next year, he’ll still be on the sideline as Loyola’s assistant athletic director, but this will be his final year calling the shots. More than anything, he wants to make it memorable for the players.
“This group of seniors, I want to see them win the game so they know what it feels like because they haven’t been on the winning side against Calvert Hall yet,” Hall said.
“Whenthey were freshmen, that’s the last time we won the game, but those guys weren’t a part of the team. So for the past two years, we’ve played them really well; we just haven’t had the game go our way. I just want them to play well so they can have that experience of winning against Calvert Hall.”
That was a feeling Hall knew well when he wore a Dons uniform. He played during Loyola’s decade of dominance.
A three-year starter at quarterback and The Baltimore Sun’s Offensive Player of the Year as a senior in 1997, Hall helped his class win all four times as part of an 11-year Dons run between 1989 and 1999 — the longest winning streak in the history of the series.
His senior year, Loyola was No. 1 and the Cardinals were No. 2 in the final game played at Memorial Stadium. Hall threw for 222 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score as the Dons won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship with their 19-7 victory.
No championship is on the line this time. The Dons (5-5) are 0-5 in the A Conference and Calvert Hall (6-5) is 1-4, but that makes the game no less important.
Their football rivalry is the third oldest in the Baltimore area, behind 128 years of City-Poly and 101 years of Gilman-McDonogh, and no matter whether Loyola or Calvert Hall wins in other sports, the Turkey Bowl champion always has bragging rights for the next year.
Although Calvert Hall has won six of the past seven games, the past four have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Dons won, 21-20, in 2013, and the Cardinals won, 25-22, in 2014.
Last year, in the lowest-scoring game since 1939, Calvert Hall won, 6-0, on a 75-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game. Loyola leads the series 49-39-8. Thinking about not being an integral part of that again is a bittersweet feeling for a coach, but it’s a feeling he shares with his seniors.
Dons senior Omar Whiting said it hasn’t quite hit him yet that it’s all ending.
“I think especially toward the end of the game, when I presume we’ll be winning,” he said with a smile, “that’s when it’s going to set in that it’s the last game. … It’s going to be bittersweet.”
Whiting, however, does hope to be back in the rivalry someday as a coach, following in Hall’s footsteps.
“The plan was actually to be coaching alongside him,” the running back and cornerback said.
While Whiting said his class wants to set the tone for the underclassmen by bringing home a win, “the majority of the thought was definitely to deliver Coach Hall his last win as head coach at Loyola.”
Whiting is already compiling the playbook he hopes to use someday.
Has he managed to get Hall to use any of those plays? “I’ve tried,” he said, shaking his head. “They’re all my plays,” Hall said. “A lot of them are,” Whiting conceded as they laughed.
As Hall prepares to step down, he might be passing the coaching legacy down to Whiting in the not-too-distant future.
“It would mean a lot to be a coach here,” Whiting said. “I look at the coaches and what they do, how much fun they have coaching and making up schemes, and I just started think about doing that.”
Putting a winning stamp on their respective careers would be the perfect ending for the coach and the player. Both would be walking a lot taller in school Monday and …
“Your food certainly tastes better Thursday night,” Hall said with a smile.