Since Fenwick High School head football coach Gene Nudo took over the program in 2012, the Friars have added several chapters to their storied tradition including an Elite 8 appearance in the Class 7A state playoffs last season and consecutive Chicago Catholic League White Division championships (2012/2013).
The quarterfinals appearance last year (Libertyville defeated Fenwick 28-10) marked just the fourth time in school history that the Friars had advanced that far in the playoffs. Fenwick earned postseason victories at Highland Park and Carmel before losing to Libertyville.
“Fenwick has a rich football tradition and we’ve been able to continue that success,” Nudo said. “I’m proud of the fact that over the 40 years since they have had the Illinois high school state playoffs, the last three years is only time Fenwick has made the playoffs three straight years.
“This is going to be my fourth year here and our players expect to win. I read about all the other teams. I like to read about everybody else because it keeps me motivated. Nobody ever talks about us which is OK. That’s what fuels my fire and it trickles down [to the players].”
While Fenwick isn’t exactly flying off the radar, Nudo makes a fair point particularly with the program’s resurgence under his watch.
Regardless, the Friars enter this season with an intriguing mix of veterans and newcomers eager to take on a schedule that includes six playoff teams from last year. Fenwick takes on Chicago Public League schools Phillips (12-2 record; 4A state runner-up last season) and Bowen (8-2 last season) in the first two weeks of the season. Other notable matchups include a midseason meeting against Loyola Academy at Concordia University on Sept. 19 (1:30 p.m.) and Chicago Catholic League Green Division games De La Salle, Marmion, Montini and St. Francis.
“I really think our first game is going to show how we will do the rest of the year.” Fenwick junior offensive lineman/long snapper Joe Calcagno said. “Phillips is one of the top-ranked teams in the state now so we’re hoping to be successful and set the right tone for the rest of the year.
“Coach Nudo and the coaching staff always prepare us very well. They throw everything at us in practice, so when the games come along, it’s a breeze. Our practices are hard, tough and non-stop. We keep things at a good tempo which really helps us get ready for games.”
While the past few seasons Fenwick has entered the regular season with high profile, established quarterbacks in Jack Beneventi (now playing college football at Western Illinois) and Gino Cavalieri (baseball at Illinois Wesleyan), it’s an ongoing competition this season between Casey O’Laughlin and Jacob Keller. Gavin Graves, who was initially in the mix at quarterback, will play fullback.
“When you have three great athletes like Casey, Jacob and Gavin, you want to get all of them on the field,” Nudo said. “Casey and Jacob both run like a deer which is something we really haven’t had at quarterback recently. We will have more clarity soon [at quarterback], but both of these guys give us the ability to run some spread offense. Gavin has done a great job with the adjustment at fullback.”
Will Lattner (17 catches, 194 yards last season) and Conner Lillig are the Friars’ top two running backs and will see time at wide receiver as well. Lattner, the grandson of Fenwick legend and 1953 Heisman Trophy winner Jonny Lattner, is also an excellent returner on special teams.
“I’m really excited about the season and I’ll do whatever I can to help us win,” Lattner said. “Last season, I played mostly wide receiver and special teams but some running back as well. I was also a running back on the lower levels. Our team has a lot of heart and everybody really put the work in over the summer.”
Wide receivers Sherman Martin, Michael O’Laughlin and Will Bynan plus tight end Jack Henige are other viable options offensively.
“Sherman Martin has really opened some eyes with his play this summer,” Nudo said. “He’s fast and just does a lot of things really well on the football field. At 6-5, Henige is a big, tall kid who can work the seams for us.”
Calcagno, a returning all-conference player, will lead the offensive line at left guard along with center Danny Kannin (6-2, 215), right guard Patrick Mackie (6-4, 270), left tackle Marco Torres (6-0, 240) and right tackle Sean Heslin (6-2, 200).
Conor Hendzel is pegged as the team’s kicker and punter, while Johnny Masterson is another capable long snapper.
The outlook on defense is similar to the offense. Although Fenwick graduated several outstanding players including defensive linemen Chris Hawthorne and Harry Bell, linebacker Michael Krecek and cornerback Aaron Garland, plenty of talented players return to fortify the unit.
Returning starter Brett Moorman (6-3, 220 pounds) anchors the Friars at middle linebacker, along with junior Marty Stein. 6-4, 200-pound Ellis Taylor is a raw but very athletic defensive end. Adam Williams (who played fullback and scored seven touchdowns last season) and Joe Garibotti also will contribute along the defensive line.
The secondary has experience with senior cornerbacks Aidan Maloney and Patrick Rafferty (4 interceptions). Outside linebacker/safety Brian Doyle, who started seven games last year, is a versatile, impact player.
“We have a good brotherhood on defense,” Doyle said. “We have a good group of returning players and new guys who have put in a ton of work over the summer. The offense looks great and it’s fun to see guys competing at quarterback and other positions as well. That’s a great situation to have during camp because it ensures guys are doing their best.”
Doyle also believes that the Friars’ tradition of excellence is in good hands with the program’s current crop of players.
“There’s a standard that’s been set the last couple of seasons. We want to continue or exceed that level of success, and it starts with our team leaders.”