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Donovan Catholic head coach Dan Curcione knew Jahdir Loftland had the talent and work ethic to be one of the best running backs in the Shore Conference. And he also knew Loftland had the patience. You don’t decide to attend a school coming off an 0-10 season without a willingness to put in the time.

That belief was further reinforced in the 391 days between the start of his junior season and the beginning of his senior year. Loftland could have been the starting running back on most teams in the Shore Conference as a junior, but instead, he split carries with a standout senior while starting on defense at outside linebacker. Instead of bemoaning his lack of carries, Loftland continued to hone his craft, making sure that when his time came he would be ready.

The 2020 season was his chance to shine, and with the role of starting running back clearly his in Donovan Catholic’s offense, Loftland took the job and literally ran with it.

In eight games, Loftland ran for 1,369 yards and 17 touchdowns on an average of 8.8 yards per carry to help lead Donovan Catholic to a 7-1 record, the No. 2 ranking in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10 and the No. 9 ranking in New Jersey. He ran for over 100 yards in every game this season, including a pair of 200-yard games, and was the only running back to rush for over 100 yards against No. 1 Wall. Loftland was second in the Shore in rushing yards and ninth in the state. For his outstanding senior year, Loftland is the 2020 SSN Offensive Player of the Year.

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“He was an extremely loyal kid to the program,” Curcione said. “He was definitely good enough to start for a ton of teams last year when he and Nasir (Calhoun) shared carries and it definitely had to be frustrating for him. Both guys were really good and in this day and age kids don’t like to wait their turn, but he didn’t complain, didn’t miss workouts. He just kept working and working.”

“Any good running back wants the ball and that is not lost on me or any of our coaches, but he waited his turn and then took full advantage.”

“I’m very appreciative and honored to receive this award,” Loftland said. “It’s a blessing.”

Even with limited carries over his first three seasons, the evidence was there that Loftland could have a monster senior season as the featured ball carrier. Over Loftland’s first three seasons, Donovan’s power spread offense was dominated by quarterback Ryan Clark, who was a four-year starter. As a sophomore, Loftland ran for 489 yards and three touchdowns and averaged a whopping 10.2 yards per carry. As a junior, he ran for 381 yards and six touchdowns on an average of 7.8 yards per carry. All the while he was excelling on defense, too. He had 49 tackles and a sack as a sophomore and recorded 51 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and 2 sacks as a junior.

It took only one game this season to see Loftland was ready to be an elite running back. In Donovan’s season-opening game he ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 42-6 win over Brick Memorial. He followed that up with 127 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries in a 47-7 win over Toms River East and then ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns on just five carries in a 49-6 win over Toms River South. Then, in a 33-0 win over Brick, Loftland ran for a career-high 230 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.

The turning point of the season came in Week 5 when Donovan came from behind to defeat Southern Regional, 21-14, for their first win over a ranked team in the four years under Curcione. The Griffins’ ground game wore down the Rams as Loftland ran for 224 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 34 carries.

Donovan closed out a perfect 6-0 regular season with a 35-0 win over Toms River North and Loftland starred again with 184 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 14 carries. The win ensured Donovan Catholic a spot in the four-team postseason pod that also included Wall, Red Bank Catholic and Mater Dei Prep in a mini Shore Conference Tournament, the first of its kind in a season unlike any other.

In the SCT semifinals, Donovan earned a program-defining type of victory when it knocked off Red Bank Catholic, 28-14. It was the only game Loftland didn’t find the end zone, but his 160 yards rushing on 29 carries were instrumental in the Griffins clearing a major hurdle.

Photo by Steve Meyer.

Donovan’s one and only loss of the season came to top-ranked Wall, 18-15, in the Shore Conference championship game but Loftland did what no other running back had done over the last two seasons by rushing for over 100 yards against the Crimson Knights’ vaunted defense. He finished with 127 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

The long touchdown runs certainly stand out, but Loftland’s ability to be a complete back should be noted. He ran with power between the tackles and speed along the edges. He wasn’t asked to often, but he was a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. Being able to pick up a blitzer in pass protection was another stout yet unheralded part of his overall game.

“I think the first thing was that he came in with a lot of experience from playing two years before and he understood the offense and the running game we have,” Curcione said. “He’s tremendous in pass protection, which nobody says (about high school running backs. He’s just a tough, hard-nosed, hard-working kid. He’s really difficult to bring down on the first hit and his balance is out of this world. He has a really good center of gravity and when you think you have him down he has his hand in the dirt and is getting five more yards.”

“It goes to what he is about as a person. He works hard on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom. And he’s a gentleman. He does it all with class.”

Loftland is part of a special senior class for Donovan Catholic. He and his classmates came to the school as freshmen in Curcione’s first season when the Griffins were coming off a winless season. Together, they transformed the identity of the program and set the foundation for a winning culture.

“Watching a kid like him and the way he’s worked to get to where he was this year with his performance, watching him do it for four years and helping to build a team that could win, that was awesome,” Curcione said. “When you have a bunch of guys who just want to win first it’s easy to coach them. His leadership and the way he went about it; he stepped up as a vocal leader this year and took a lot of pride in the fact that we built this. They wanted to be on the big stage and play in the types of games we did and it’s because of guys like Jahdir and his hard work.”

“The most satisfying thing was that he went from being a kid who wasn’t even All-Shore last year to all the work he put in and now he’s the Offensive Player of the Year. It says a lot about who he is.”

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights. 

 

 

 

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