At 4:20 a.m., Tommy Vanis is awakened at his home in Newport Beach by his mother knocking on his bedroom door. After showering, he eats a bagel, drinks a protein shake, then hops into his Volkswagen Passat and makes the 46-mile one-way commute to Loyola High near downtown Los Angeles for weight training with the Cubs' football team.
On more than one occasion, he admits, he's asked himself. why am I doing this?
"I think it's an easy answer — just what I get out of it every day," he says.
In an era when families are choosing expediency over tradition and opting for the lure of winning over old-school values, the Vanis family is nothing short of extraordinary in its commitment to have all the boys in the family attend Loyola.
It started with Dr. Richard "Dick" Vanis, who played on unbeaten Loyola football teams in 1962 and 1963 and was student body president. He married Mary Elizabeth Goodwin, and they had five boys who played football for the Cubs — Rich, Matt, Mark, Mike and Tim. Richard died in 2014 at the age of 68, and now there's 26 grandchildren.
Tommy, a senior linebacker and tight end, is Dick's grandson and the second son of Rich and Quinn Vanis to play for the Cubs. A third is arriving next year, eighth-grader Peter. There are seven more sons of Dick Vanis' boys scheduled to arrive at Loyola by 2033. And probably cousins coming, too, considering Rich said he has 45 of them.
"It's a long line of Vanises to come through," Tommy said. "My family is obviously high on the academics. They're high on the tradition. They love the type of man this school makes. They love the football, too."
Not all the Vanises send their boys to Loyola. Elizabeth, one of Rich's two sisters, has her son, Bart McNulty, playing basketball for Santa Ana Mater Dei. "If it was football, we'd have an issue," Rich said.
Loyola High is more than 150 years old. Jesuit priests began building the school at its current Venice Boulevard location in 1918. Walking around campus evokes the look and feel of a small college with its red brick buildings and dark gray slate roof. One thousand two hundred and forty-nine boys attend classes on a 15-acre campus that returned to hosting home football games in 2014 after a 65-year absence. The campus views of downtown Los Angeles at night can be stunning.
When Tommy wonders why he's not attending Corona del Mar, his neighborhood school, or Mater Dei, which is about 10 miles away, his skepticism vanishes as he stares at the same buildings his grandfather and father encountered and he sees how classmates embrace the lessons and experiences that have helped produce so many doctors, lawyers, teachers and businessmen through the years.
"There's never been a reason to go anywhere else," he said. "I think the only challenge was distance, and once we figured that out it was an easy decision."
He sometimes carpools with another Loyola student and football player with family ties to the Cubs program, Brayden Utley, who lives in Huntington Beach. Utley's brother, Noah, played last year.
An examination of Loyola's football roster indicates there are at least 23 varsity players whose fathers, brothers, uncles or cousins have attended Loyola, with most having played football.
Kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira is the brother of Anthony Barr, star linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings. Receiver Alex Blake is the brother of Kelly Blake, now at Stanford. Receiver David Anawalt is the brother of WInston Anawalt, now at UCLA.
It's a long Loyola tradition of brothers making an impact in football, according to school historian Pat Jacobs. There were the Callanan brothers — Howard ('39), George ('42), Jim ('43) and Ed ('45). Three were All-CIF. Ed became a priest. Howard died in the South Pacific serving in the Navy during World War II. Four of George's grandsons played football for Loyola.
The Clougherty brothers — Joseph ('66), Bernard '67) and Anthony ('69) — were standouts during Loyola's single-wing era. Anthony had two sons, Dennis ('93) and Vincent ('94), who became all-league football players.
Rick Pedroarias is in his first year as Loyola's head coach, but he has been at the school for 30 years. The family connections, he said, "speaks to the tradition, it speaks to the sense of community, it speaks to the continuity of the program. People come back because they believe in the values, not just of the school but of the football program."
The Fry twins, Speed and Kaiser, briefly left Loyola for Palos Verdes before coming back this season.
"We missed the culture, we missed the foundation," said their father, Speed V, who graduated from Loyola in 1988. "We made a mistake taking them out."
The football program has won six CIF titles but none since 2005. Loyola has been hurt by the new reliance on transfers, where top programs stay strong by allowing seniors and juniors to transfer in as replacements for graduating players. The school has not participated in the transfer game on a large scale.The varsity football team has a 4-2 record this season while clinging to old-school values of wanting families to select their high school based on more than just sports.
There's a plaque installed on campus that proclaims the school's vision, mission and values, and it's clear that families are finding comfort in a school that keeps preparing teenage boys for success on and off the athletic field.
Football family affair
Tommy Vanis is just one of 23 Loyola High varsity football players who have family members attending or who have graduated from the school:
Matt Alonzo: father, Leo (1984)
David Anawalt: brother, Winston (2017)
Will Anderson: brother, Nicholas (2020)
Hunter Ballard: brother, Dylan (2021)
Nicholas Barr-Mira: brother, Anthony (2010)
Cole Beadles: brother, Connor (2017)
Michael Bearden: brother, Miles (2020)
Alex Blake: brother, Kelly (2016)
Nathan Bustos: brother, Noah (2021)
Patrick Casani: father, Jason (1989); uncle, Drew (1991)
Jac Casasante: brother, Nicholas (2020)
Danny Dixon: brothers, Jack (2015) and Troy (2015)
Speed Fry: father, Speed (1988); brother, Kaiser (2019)
Collin Flintoft: cousin, Stefan (2014)
E'asus Jimenez y West: father, Chris (1984)
Jalen McAlpin: father, Jerome (1979); uncle Khalil (1990)
Jacob McBride: brother, Tyler (2011)
Cole Miller: brother, Jake (2017)
Kevin Parada: father, Jason (1984)
Nathan Priestley: brother, Jalen (2021)
Parker Renick: brother Brandon (2014)
Brayden Utley: brother, Noah (2016)
Tommy Vanis: father, Rich (1988); uncles, Matt ('92), Mark ('94), Mike '96) and Tim ('97); brother, Rich (2016).