Fenwick’s football season ended in a blaze of legal motions and national news attention. The school took the Illinois High School Association to court after a referee’s mistake in the Class 7A state semifinals cost the Friars a spot in the state title game.
“Human error kept us out of the state championship game,” Fenwick coach Gene Nudo said. “It was a very emotional time. Those are great young men and they’ve learned to suffer well.”
The controversy was featured on Good Morning America and followed Fenwick throughout the basketball season. It’s unlikely to go away anytime soon.
“I’m sure people are going to keep chanting at us about it this season,” Fenwick senior Mike O’Laughlin said. “It’s just fuel in the fire. I hope they do it.”
Monday was the first day of football practice across the state. Friars defensive back Lorenzano Blackeney had been looking forward to it for months.
“I thought about the way our season ended every day,” Blackeney said. “We need to bring that intensity out with us in every game, have what happened fuel us this season.”
Fenwick returns seven starters on defense and two starters on offense from the team that finished 11-2 last season. Other than the disputed state semifinal game to Plainfield North, the Friars only loss was to Class 8A powerhouse Loyola.
The basketball team, which O’Laughlin also played on, lost in the Class 3A state title game.
“It’s been awesome to be a part of two teams that went that far,” O’Laughlin said. “Fenwick is moving up the ranks. Even with what happened at the end of both seasons it was a year I’ll never forget.”
Nudo and basketball coach Rick Malnati are clearly spearheading a sports renaissance at Fenwick.
“I’m not denigrating anything that came before me, but I’m proud of the five years since I’ve been here,” Nudo said. “In the last three years we’ve been in the quarterfinals and the semifinals but we’re still the team nobody knows about, which is ok. We have great kids, truly student athletes. No one is getting cut any slack anywhere, I think it is what high school sports is all about.”
O’Laughlin, a wide receiver, has made an oral commitment to West Virginia. Offensive lineman Austin Glazier recently committed to Fordham. Everyone else on the offense will be starting for the first time.
“We have guys that are going to step up,” Glazier said. “Our offensive line is actually the same size or bigger than last year. We are big and heavy across the board. We will be just as good.”
Senior George Lagios and sophomore Dan Cronin are the contenders to replace Jacob Keller at quarterback.
“There is still a battle there,” Nudo said. “We have that a few places. But it’s encouraging to see that everyone is putting the time in. We averaged 45 to 50 kids in the weight room every day. That’s something we haven’t had before.”
Fenwick, which has played its home games at several locations in the past, played all nine home games at Triton last season.
“Triton was awesome,” Nudo said. “People knew where to find us and the kids didn’t have to get on a bus to go to a home game.”
Everything seems to be falling in place for Fenwick: the coaches, the talent and the home field. It may not be too long before the Friars bring home their first football state championship.Tags: Fenwick