St. Ignatius High School is making its mark on Ivy League football.
On Saturday afternoon, Penn backup senior quarterback Andrew Holland will face Yale freshman starting quarterback Eric Williams in a contest between two St. Ignatius alumni who put their names in the Ohio history books before playing among the Ancient Eight.
Holland and Williams graduated from the Cleveland school in 2008 and 2011, respectively, and while playing for the Wildcats, they both led their squads to Ohio state championships.
Those titles came as the latest successes in the high school’s football dynasty. In total, St. Ignatius has won 11 state championships in the last 24 years.
In particular, the all-boys private school has a tradition of great quarterbacks including Brian Hoyer, a former backup to Tom Brady, and Dave Ragone (no relation to Penn’s Billy), who played in the NFL and now serves as a wide receivers coach for the Tennessee Titans.
Raised just east of Cleveland in Willoughby, Ohio, Holland knew of the history and success of the Wildcats long before he ever set up under center for them.
“It was an awesome experience because growing up I was a St. Ignatius fan, and I watched all the quarterbacks and all the players from Ignatius,” Holland said.
While Williams and Holland share many similarities, Williams’ entrance into St. Ignatius was distinctly different, transferring to the private school in his junior year from Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore.
Despite the prowess of St. Ignatius’ football program, Williams made the change primarily for the education.
“It’s a very academically sound high school … so I guess in that sense it was an Ivy League prep step for me,” Williams said.
The Portland native’s family knows a thing or two about Ivy League football. In fact, two of Williams’ older brothers have played football at Yale — Sean, who graduated in 2011 and Scott, who is in his senior year playing linebacker.
The football genes for the Williams brothers trace back to their father, Larry, who played for Notre Dame before a career in the NFL during the late 80s and early 90s.
Holland also had some familial familiarity with Ancient Eight football. Two of his uncles on his mother’s side played for Harvard and Princeton, which helped make him “open-minded to the Ivy League,” according to Andrew’s father, Steve.
For both Holland and Williams, the decision to play in the Ivy League resulted from putting academics ahead of athletics.
“Football is going to end at one point in your life, so I wanted to be prepared for life. And I thought I would get the best opportunity for that at Penn,” said Holland, who could have had a full ride at Akron.
Williams felt the same way about choosing to play for the Bulldogs.
“The competition here is great, and then, the academics are bar none,” he said.
When he took on the role of the St. Ignatius quarterback, he inevitably heard tales of Holland’s exploits as one of the most accomplished players in the school’s history.
“It was the last state championship before we won it last year actually, so everyone kind of used to reminisce about when he was quarterback and the plays he used to make,” Williams said.
The two quarterbacks got to know each other during Williams’ senior campaign through Holland’s brother Brendan, who played defensive line for the Wildcats at the time. Additionally, the pair interacted at St. Ignatius alumni events, even working out alongside each other at times.
Holland and Williams enter Saturday’s game under very different circumstances. The former is a senior backup quarterback, playing for a team vying for an Ivy League championship. The latter is a freshman leading a squad that is winless in league play.
Regardless of the outcome, though, the two Ivy competitors will share a special place in history together and the connection that comes with being alumni of St. Ignatius.
“We’re excited to see each other out there,” Williams said.