Loyola QB shakes off pressure of 'huge game'

Bruns calm and collected on eve of showdown with Calvert Hall

November 27, 2008|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

Loyola quarterback Connor Bruns, a fresh-faced junior with a mop of blond curls, walked off the practice field one night last week refusing to acknowledge the cold.

There aren't many things that faze the transfer from Fargo, N.D., who has led the No. 2 Dons to four straight wins since taking over the offense after three-year starter Leon Kinnard suffered a broken leg last month.

Next up for Bruns, 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, is the 89th annual Thanksgiving game against rival Calvert Hall at 10 a.m. today at M&T Bank Stadium, where a crowd of approximately 15,000 is expected.

Bruns is nothing if not matter-of-fact heading into the game that sparks weeklong events and pep rallies and has alumni of both teams coming in for the game from around the country.

"I've heard it's a huge game," he said. "I know it has been going on 80-some years and a lot of people come to this game. It sounds like a real lot of fun to come out there in that stadium in front of all those people with all that tradition. I mean, I don't know. It sounds exciting. But we'll see."

Bruns' low-key disposition as game time approaches comes as no surprise to Loyola coach Brian Abbott.

"He's been very calm," Abbott said. "For the Gilman game, his first start, he didn't understand the rivalry and was very relaxed. But it's how he approaches every game. He's just very steady. He and Leon are very similar in their ability to remain calm in heated situations."

Bruns, who has passed for 733 yards, with eight touchdowns, three interceptions and a 62 percent completion rate, might not fully grasp the storied tradition and intensity of the Loyola-Calvert Hall rivalry, but he does know his team is undefeated (10-0) and that it would win the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship with a victory today.

A loss means the Dons would share the title with Mount St. Joseph, as they did last year.

"And I know if Calvert Hall beats us, it will make their season," Bruns said.

When Bruns arrived in Baltimore with his family last summer, he checked out the Catholic schools and narrowed his choices to Loyola and Calvert Hall.

"I liked Calvert Hall," Bruns said. "But everyone here was so friendly when I [visited]. There was just something about Loyola. I think it came down to its atmosphere. It's just awesome here."

Knowing he was joining a team led by Kinnard, a second-team All-Metro selection who had already committed to Connecticut, Bruns spent most of the season learning to play safety for the first time. He was a starter at that position when Kinnard broke his leg Oct. 18 during a game against Mount St. Joseph.

Bruns entered the game in the second quarter with the Dons leading 6-0 and helped them to a 20-7 win.

Then, in his first start, a week later against then-No. 5 Gilman, Bruns completed 14 of 19 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns to lead Loyola to a 31-20 victory.

Since becoming the starter, Bruns has been getting plenty of advice from Kinnard.

"He's been great," Bruns said. "Leon has been out at practice helping me, giving me tips. He knows the offense like the back of his hand."

Kinnard also knows something about the Thanksgiving Day tradition and said he will share his thoughts with Bruns before the game.

"I was 16 when I played in my first Thanksgiving Day game," said Kinnard, who will be wearing a boot and walking on crutches on the sideline for this one. "Everyone I was playing against was 18. They were all bigger than me. But once you take the first snap, the nervousness goes away and you just don't want the game to end."

At Calvert Hall, where coach Donald Davis is hoping his team can improve on its 4-6 season record and end a five-game Thanksgiving Day losing streak, there are no illusions about Bruns being a weak link.

"He hasn't been fazed by anything that has happened so far," Davis said. "He's stepped into the No. 1 team in the league, to the No. 2 team in [The Baltimore Sun's poll] and maybe the state. ... He's rolled up a season's worth of touchdowns in half the time and played extremely well in pressure situations. I don't think he'll be rattled in this game.

"Now, if I could suit up Terrell Suggs - I think we might make him nervous with Terrell Suggs coming around the end, but we've got to find someone under the age of 18 to do it."

today's game

WHAT: 89th Turkey Bowl, No. 2 Loyola

vs. Calvert Hall

WHEN: 10 a.m.

WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium

TV/RADIO: Ch. 2/1300 AM

OUTLOOK: Loyola (10-0) has won five straight and 19 of the past 23 in the series, which it leads 47-33-8. This game, however, will have even greater meaning for the Dons, who stand at 4-0 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and can claim the title outright with a win. QB Connor Bruns has looked impressive since replacing injured starter Leon Kinnard in mid-October and has had plenty of help from 1,000-yard back Terence Garvin. Despite its 4-6 record, Calvert Hall is anything but a pushover. Led by QB Patrick Fitzgerald, the Cardinals this season lost by just a point to No. 4 Eastern Tech and took No. 14 Gilman to overtime. In their past two games, they have defeated Washington's Cesar Chavez and Randallstown by a combined 90-6, and their defense has given up more than 21 points just once all season.

THE BALTIMORE SUN'S PICK: Loyola

Rich Scherr

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