Motivation will not be in short supply for the Fenwick High School football team this fall.
Neither will talent or size.
The Friars went 3-6 last season, missing the playoffs for the first time in Gene Nudo’s four-year tenure as head coach. It was the first time since 2002 that Fenwick did not play in either the state playoffs or Chicago Catholic League playoffs.
“We played a tough schedule,” Nudo said. “We played three undefeated state champions in Phillips, Loyola and Montini.
“Lucky for us, they’re on the schedule again, plus Providence which won a state title two years ago.”
Overcoming that tough slate would be a formidable task for any team, but the Friars are up to the challenge. They have the experience and the size to make an impact.
“We’re excited,” Nudo said. “We’ve got 17 starters back and we’re going to be a much improved team along the way.
“On paper that doesn’t mean anything. But we should be a tough out every week.”
Fenwick is particularly deep on offense, where nine starters return.
Nudo calls quarterback Jacob Keller, who has a scholarship offer from Eastern Michigan, one of the best athletes in the area. The 6-foot-4 senior has a bunch of experienced targets to throw to, including 6-2 senior Sherman Martin and 6-5 senior Mike O’Laughlin.
Junior Jason Ivery and senior Conner Lillig are the leading running backs. Nudo envisions the 5-10, 180-pound Lillig being Fenwick’s version of Stanford star Christian McCaffery. Lillig, who also plays receiver and returns kicks, had over 800 all-purpose yards last season.
The runners should have plenty of holes thanks to a huge offensive line that includes senior left tackle Marco Torres (5-11, 270), senior center Danny Kannin (6-3, 220), senior right guard Joe Calcagno (6-1, 260), a two-time all-conference selection who has verbally committed to Penn State as a long snapper, and senior right tackle Sean Heslin (6-4, 230). Austin Glazier, a 6-5, 275-pound junior who started two games last season, also will help out.
“With the size we have on the offensive line, we should be able to run the ball,” Nudo said. “But with a returning quarterback and receivers that are (tall), we’ll be able to throw it on teams too.”
Nudo also is intrigued by Liam Mahon. The 6-4, 290-pound junior has never played football but is an all-conference wrestler and rugby player who could make a significant impact on either side of the line of scrimmage.
“I’m not sure where he fits in yet,” Nudo said. “We’re focusing on defense, but he might be a natural on offense.”
If it’s defense, Mahon will get good guidance from new defensive coordinator Brandon New, who was head coach at St. Viator the past four years.
“He’s got everyone flying around the field,” Nudo said.
The Friars aren’t as experienced on defense but the talent is there.
Senior defensive end Ellis Taylor anchors the line, while senior Brett Moorman, a two-year starter who has an offer from Army, and senior Marty Stein lead the linebacking corps. The secondary is solid with junior twins Lorente and Lorenzano Blakeney and junior Joe Rafferty.
“Our goal is to win every game,” Nudo said. “We’re going to be a big team, but the bottom line is to get them rowing the boat in the same direction.”
The Friars will be swimming against the tide right from the beginning as they host reigning Class 4A state champion Phillips in the season opener Friday, August 26 at Triton College.
That is part of a three-game homestand that also includes defending Class 6A state champion Montini in Week 3.
“This is a group of kids that have hung together and been with me since I started,” Nudo said. “They get along and like each other. That’s a very important part of team chemistry.”