A couple of life lessons that sports teach us is to expect the unexpected and prepare to deal with adversity.
Fenwick senior wide receiver Michael O’Laughlin experienced both last school year, after dealing with an 18-17 loss to Plainfield North in the Class 7A semifinals that abruptly and unfairly ended the Friars’ dream season, to finishing second in the Class 3A basketball finals in overtime against Morgan Park.
So, when the season-opening game against Bowen (Aug. 25) was declared a forfeit, the Friars had an unexpected bye and hollow victory.
How did O’Laughlin and his teammates deal with yet another quirky experience?
“We were pretty disappointed,” O’Laughlin said. “Everyone was ready to play so it was definitely a buzzkill. But we’re excited about playing this week [against Moline] and we’re going to come out swinging”.
From a personal standpoint, O’Laughlin aims to build on the momentum from last year. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound wide receiver, who occasionally lined up at tight end, had a stellar season in 2016 with 54 receptions for 939 yards and eight touchdowns.
He also can play freely this season with no recruiting pressure since he orally committed to West Virginia last spring.
Why the Mountaineers?
“I love the coaching staff at West Virginia,” said O’Laughlin, who is deciding between pre-med, business, and economics for a major. “I love their style of offense. It fits my strengths as a player. I feel that I can come in and contribute right away.”
Like fellow Fenwick athletic phenom – sophomore football player/wrestler Jacob Kaminski – O’Laughlin comes from a talented athletic family.
Older brother Casey, a recent Fenwick alum, is in his freshman year at Northwestern and will play outfield for the Wildcats’ baseball team. Father J.J. played quarterback at the University of Illinois and Cal State-Northridge, while mother Kathleen played volleyball at Illinois and Cal State-Northridge.
Who’s the best athlete in the Glen Ellyn family is a compelling question.
“Of course, I’m going to say it’s me,” O’Laughlin said with a laugh. “But my dad has already proven himself. Being recruited by Illinois for two sports [baseball, football] is something that’s rare today. It’s cool to have a dad that was very involved with Illinois.
“My mom was a good athlete, too, and like my dad was an All-American in high school. Our whole family is a bunch of great athletes.”
In addition to the benefits of a sports-centric family, O’Laughlin has flourished under the tutelage of two very good high school coaches at Fenwick. Gene Nudo (football) and Rick Malnati (basketball) have proven records of success.
“They are both great coaches and they both love their players,” O’Laughlin said. “Whenever you have a problem, whether it’s school-related or sports-related, you can go and talk to them about it. They’re aggressive coaches who care most about winning which the guys appreciate.”
As the 2017 football season moves to Week 2, O’Laughlin and his teammates won’t soon forget last year’s controversial postseason ending against Plainfield North often referred to as the “Travesty at Triton.”
In fact, the players are using it as a source of motivation this fall.
“We’re very prepared to handle it,” O’Laughlin said about possible taunting at road games this season. “We learned a lot from last year’s seniors. Seeing the way [quarterback] Jacob Keller handled the taunting during basketball season was impressive. Seeing him respond with composure taught me a lesson in life on how to react when people try to throw you off your game. I think we’ll use the taunting as fuel to our fire this season.”
The Friars would love to win a state title in football and share it with last year’s seniors.
“That would be amazing and something I definitely thought about during the offseason,” O’Laughlin said. “I didn’t think it was fair for last year’s seniors to go out with such a tough loss. Seeing all of them devastated made me sad.
O’Laughlin added: “If we can win this year’s state title, it would be not only for us and the school, but for all the guys in the great Class of 2017 as well.”