Football Preview 2017: Loolo expanding his role after strong debut for R-MA last season

Randolph-Macon Academy's Edmund Loolo, center, will help lead the Yellow Jackets this season. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Around the time when Edmund Loolo was in eighth grade he began dabbling in football, and his initial impression of the sport was not so good. It was an experience playing another “football” – soccer – that warmed Loolo to the American version.

The Randolph-Macon Academy senior recalled earlier this month “messing around” with his friends on the soccer field, covering each other one-on-one in a similar fashion that cornerbacks cover receivers on the gridiron.

The experience piqued Loolo’s interest enough for him to give football another try, and he became fully hooked when he saw Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson play while watching the NFL at a friend’s house.

“Just the flash, I don’t know how to explain it,” Loolo said of watching Peterson. “It just drew me to it and it looked fun.”

Loolo has been playing in the defensive secondary since, and his list of football role models has grown to include players like Tyrann Mathieu, Vernon Hargreaves III, Karl Joseph and Ed Reed.

“DBs just have that swagger to them,” Loolo explained, “just the way they dress, the way they come out, just the confidence because they’re playing – we’re playing – at a disadvantage. That confidence, it drew me and just made me wanna play that.”

Loolo, whose family moved from Nigeria to Texas when he was young,  transferred last season to R-MA, where his cousin, So So Eke Spiff, also played football for Frank Sullivan’s Yellow Jackets.

Loolo made an immediate impact. As one of R-MA’s starting cornerbacks he tallied 30 tackles in nine games and was a second team All-VISAA Division II selection.

“(He) really didn’t have a lot of numbers because after a while teams stopped throwing that way a little bit,” said Sullivan, who praised Loolo’s athleticism, intelligence, awareness and eagerness to ask questions when preparing for opposing offenses. “But he did a great job, sort of held us together back there.”

As one of about 10 seniors on the Yellow Jackets’ roster in 2017 (R-MA’s football roster was not entirely set on Aug. 16), Loolo will be asked to do a little bit more this fall. Not only has he made the switch from cornerback to safety this preseason, but he’s also moved to the backfield on the other side of the football, where he’s competing with fellow senior Tradarius Gadson for the chance to quarterback the Jackets’ spread offense.

Sullivan said the loser of the QB battle would play receiver this season but added that he expects Loolo to be the starter in the opener at Massanutten Military Academy on Sept. 1.

Loolo’s transition to safety has been simple enough. Instead of being responsible for one-on-one coverage on the perimeter he’s asked to focus on and read the opposing quarterback.

However, Loolo did not play offense for R-MA last season – a result of his value as a defensive back and the Yellow Jackets’ depth at the skill positions – and he said his experience as a quarterback is very limited.

“It’s a process. It’s different but the drills we’ve been doing in practice, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it,” said Loolo, who would follow Corban Ruch – who threw for over 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior last season – should he win the starting quarterback job. “I watched Corban play last year, he gave me a few tips, like throwing, stepping into your throw and everything. I think I’ve got a pretty good arm so I’m doing pretty good.”

Loolo figures to be one of the many new faces on an offense that returns only three starters from a season ago. In addition to Ruch the Yellow Jackets, who return seven starters combined on offense and defense, also must fill the holes left by the departures of first team all-state receiver Alex Ndongo-Seh (37 receptions, 882 yards, 17 touchdowns in 2016) and running back Jeffrey Collins (905 yards rushing, five TDs).

Among R-MA’s returning starters are two-way senior linemen Luel Mekonnen and Rhamel Brewer (three sacks in 2016), senior linebacker Miles Gilmore (67 tackles, three sacks) – the Yellow Jackets’ returning leading tackler who will also start at running back this season – and the Gadson brothers Tradarius and Tajour.

Sullivan added that newcomers Wyatt O’Donnell (OL/DL), Trysten Noszek (ATH/LB), Connor Blow (ATH/LB), Kobi Okaford (WR/DB) and A.J. Sullivan (WR/DB) will make impacts for R-MA this season.

“It’s going to be very important for guys like (Loolo) to step up,” said Sullivan, whose team went 6-3 and missed out on the playoffs last season.

“In the past two years our team has basically been senior led and we have another great group of seniors this year that are sort of learning that role. They’ve sort of been in the background. They’ve been playing on the field and they’re seeing where that goes.”