It's virtually impossible to preview the upcoming Fenwick football season without at least a brief recap of the gut-wrenching end to the Friars' 2012 campaign.
In the second round of last year's Class 7A playoffs, Fenwick led two-time defending state champion Rockford Boylan 21-14 in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. The Titans' Pete Cimino returned a punt 90 yards with no time left on the clock and Zack Matthews ran in the game-winning two point conversion to deal the Friars a stunning 22-21 loss.
"Like anything in life, if you can't move on you'll be stuck in the rearview mirror forever," said head coach Gene Nudo, who guided the Friars' resurgent 2012 season highlighted by eight wins and a Chicago Catholic League White Division title.
"Obviously, we lost a heartbreaking game against the two-time defending state champs," Nudo said. "We had them on the ropes; we proved that we can compete at a high level."
The refocused Friars have spent the summer practicing at the Priory and playing 19 different teams in 7-on-7 competition. With 10 returning starters and more than nine months of familiarity with Nudo, Fenwick appears poised for another highly successful season.
"Since January, we have been doing a lot of weightlifting and conditioning," said senior running back Robert Spillane, who has verbally committed to Western Michigan University. "Last year, there were some growing pains. Heading into this season, we already know the playbook and its terminology."
Nudo, who coached [former Illinois high school] Driscoll to an undefeated season and state title in 1991, likes what he's seen with his current crop of committed Friars
"Our philosophy has always been that you build a team through suffering together," he said. "That means lifting weights at 6:30 a.m. in January, which is not an easy thing for any young person. But our guys have gotten stronger. We have the advantage [now] that our system has been in place for well over a season."
Offensively, the Friars will feature a plethora of weapons, including quarterback Gino Cavalieri, tight end Ryan Smith and Spillane. Linebacker/safety Rich Schoen and junior nose guard Chris Hawthorne are pegged as outstanding leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
"Losing the [Rockford] Boylan game is part of our motivation," Hawthorne said, "but we're also just trying to be a better team than we were last year. We have worked our butts off during the offseason. Some people will view as underdogs, but we feel like we can play with any team in the state."
Fenwick will practice the rest of July, and then after a brief break, hold two-a-day practices for nine days in mid-August.
The Friars host St. Joseph on Friday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. at Morton West High School in the season opener. The following week, Fenwick travels to Dallas to take on Bishop Lynch on Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
"We have some experienced players in good spots," Nudo said. "I think the key for us will be if we can keep our quarterback [Cavalieri] off his butt so he has time to make good decisions