Gridiron Classic: Opposing Forces: Jackson Memorial’s Ken Bradley and Ocean’s Dan Loizos
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Two of the Shore Conference’s top linebackers over the last four seasons will be joining forces this fall, but before they head off to college, the future roommates will play for one final bit of hometown bragging rights.
Jackson Memorial’s Ken Bradley and Ocean’s Dan Loizos, both first-team Shore Sports Network All-Shore selections at linebacker and the conference’s top two leading tacklers, each committed to Ithaca College during the offseason. The two knew each other as standouts on the football field and as wrestlers for two of the top programs in the Shore, but otherwise had no previous relationship. They exchanged numbers and began talking once both had committed, and one thing led to another before they decided to room together.
“We got each other’s numbers and would text every once in a while, and figured since we’re from the same area and do know each other we might as well be roommates,” Bradley said. “It’s a good way to start freshman year and get ready to do big things at the next level.”
“I knew of Ken more from wrestling, actually, with us both being good as little kids,” Loizos said. “He got in touch when he found out we were both going to Ithaca, and since we’re both linebackers and Shore guys we figured we should stick together.”
Loizos led the Shore Conference with 159 tackles with 16.5 tackles for a loss while adding 5.5 sacks for a Spartans team that finished 10-1, losing only to eventual NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III champion Hopewell Valley. Loizos, a four-year starter, helped Ocean win the Class B North division title and was selected as the B North Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. He made a career-high 22 tackles in a playoff win over Warren Hills in the first round of the Central Jersey Group III tournament.
Bradley was picked as the Class A South Defensive Player of the Year. He led a hard-hitting defense that propelled the Jaguars to an 8-3 record and the A South division title, as well as the program’s first state playoff victory in seven years. Bradley’s 140 tackles were tied for second in the conference, and he also had 10 tackles for a loss, 7 pass breakups and 5 sacks. He finished with double-digit tackles in every game, including a season-best 17 stops in a 9-7 win over Central Jersey Group IV champion Brick and 12 against South Jersey Group V champs Cherokee in the sectional semifinals.
While Bradley and Loizos won’t be squaring off directly on July 17 at Brick in the U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, there will be competition nonetheless.
“We’ve been talking about the game a little bit,” Bradley said. “We’re going to go out and compete. We’re not going to be butting heads, but it’s definitely going to be a competition within itself. Two years in a row he was one of the guys that finished with more tackles than me in the Shore, so I definitely want to go out there and put up big numbers.”
“Ken is a hard-hitting linebacker, but I’ve had my fair share of hits, too,” Loizos jabbed. “I feel we’ll both play pretty well, but I might have to talk some trash.”
What both Loizos and Bradley agreed separately was that being selected to play in the Gridiron Classic is a unique opportunity. In talking to some of their future teammates at Ithaca, that notion was reinforced.
“We have a group chat with some of the players and we’re talking about the (Gridiron Classic), and a lot of them don’t have all-star games like this,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot of rich tradition and history in this game. Most of these players I’ve been playing against since I was five or six years old from Pop Warner to high school. You have fun, but you take it seriously as well.”
“We’re all definitely fortunate to have this game because a lot of other places don’t have anything like it,” Loizos said. “We get pumped for it. You want to show your county is the best.”
Ithaca runs a 3-4 defense, which means Loizos and Bradley will have some adjustments to make in coming from 4-3 schemes at Ocean and Jackson. Bradley was the Jaguars’ middle linebacker, and will remain on the inside with the Bombers. Loizos said he hasn’t been told specifically where he’ll play, but in starting at weakside linebacker as a freshman and sophomore before playing middle linebacker as a junior and senior, he has the versatility to play inside or outside.
In several weeks the pair of tackling machines will head to upstate New York to begin their college careers. At 7 p.m. on Thursday at Brick Township’s Keller Memorial Field, they’ll lock in one final high school memory.
“It’s great coming out here with your teammates for this game and one last week of practice,” Bradley said. “You meet some new people and make some new friends, and it’s one last time together before people break off and go their separate ways.”
“I remember growing up and always wanting to play in this game,” Loizos said. “Pretty much all my coaches are coaching this game, so it’s definitely a good way to end my career.”