Although it wasn't an actual high school football game, crosstown rivals Fenwick and Oak Park and River Forest finally met on the gridiron in mid-July. Along with traditional powers Mount Carmel and Joliet Catholic Academy, the Friars and host Huskies squared off in a series of 7-on-7 competitions at Oak Park Stadium.
Fenwick head coach Gene Nudo felt all the participating squads benefitted from the lively scrimmage.
"Every year, we get invited over by [OPRF] Coach [John] Hoerster and it's a very spirited competition," Nudo said. "A lot of our guys know their guys. I have a great amount of respect for Coach Hoerster. John's a good guy, and his kids follow him like our kids follow me. We got through it with no issues and all the teams got in some good work."
Having Joliet Catholic (the 2018 IHSA Class 5A champion) and Mount Carmel (2018 Class 7A semifinalist) participate only served to increase the level of competition. Collectively, the Hilltoppers (14) and Caravan (12) have won 26 state championships.
"I still have really close friends who I coached with at Mount Carmel. We have guys on our coaching staff with connections to Joliet Catholic," Hoerster said. "I've known Gene and his staff at Fenwick for a long time. They're three very good Catholic League programs, so it's fun to have some of that history and tradition around. It was nice to have them here because you know they're going to provide some very good competition."
Nudo praised several Friars for their performances at OPRF.
"[Wide receiver] Ian Pugh did very well," he said. "I thought our quarterback, Kaden Cobb, threw some great balls. Linebackers Bryce Legan and Danny Farnan did very well. In particular, I thought Marc Thomas at cornerback did a very nice job for us."
Other notable varsity returnees for Fenwick include offensive tackle Sean Carpenter, linebacker Tom Dvorak, cornerbacks Mark Thomas and Solomon Singleton and kicker Brian Dowd, who will attend Notre Dame University on a soccer scholarship.
The four-team scrimmage marked the latest activity during a busy summer for the Friars. Fenwick traveled to St. Laurence for 7-on-7 events against the host Vikings, Thornwood and Marian Catholic; and also to Evanston for 7-on-7 sessions versus the host Wildkits, Leo and Stevenson.
"They really served a purpose of bringing the team together to compete against other people," Nudo said. "We were able to install what we're going to do during the season against teams you don't see every day — 7-on-7 is not a physical game by any means, but we're able to script what we do. We'll show enough, but not too much. We're just working on the things we practice during the week."
Fenwick looks to bounce back from an uncharacteristically subpar 2018 season at 3-6. The Friars will feature an infusion of younger players focused on returning the program to the postseason.
"We've got eight sophomores who are going to be playing for us," Nudo said. "We've got 56 guys on the varsity; that's a good number. I think they also get along well, which is huge when you're building a team. There's an awful lot of talent."
After hosting Chicago schools Curie and Dunbar the first two weeks of the season, Fenwick hits the road to take on Class 7A defending champion Nazareth in Week 3 action, followed by a matchup against Joliet Catholic Academy. The Friars then return home for three games against Marist, Marmion Academy and St. Patrick during the middle portion of the season.
"The kids know we have a challenging schedule, but right now our focus is on Curie [Week 1 opponent]," Nudo added. "We've got to be ready."