In this modern era of Illinois high school football, younger fans and alumni are more likely to recall great Fenwick High School teams from the IHSA state playoffs era, which began in 1974.
But older fans will fondly recall a dominant squad that took the field 60 years ago. The 1962 Friars went 10-0 and recorded six shutouts, outscoring their opponents 317-32 during the season. They remain the only team in school history to go undefeated.
Fenwick wasn’t scored upon during the first five games, and when the Friars allowed 14 points to St. Philip in Week 6, they became a headline story in the Chicago Tribune.
After permitting six points in each of the next three games, Fenwick closed out 1962 in grand fashion. Before a crowd of 91,328 at Soldier Field, the Friars shut out Schurz 40-0 to win the Prep Bowl.
The star of the game was all-American running back Jim DiLullo, who gained 224 yards on just 12 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns.
“When you’re in the middle of a scrimmage, you don’t have the fans,” he said of the Prep Bowl in a phone interview with the Wednesday Journal. “But [at a game] when something happens, you feel a roar go up. That was exciting. Everyone had a job to do, and everyone executed.”
Nearly three dozen members of that legendary squad, including DiLullo, will be in town this weekend for their 60-year reunion in conjunction with the school’s homecoming weekend.
Fenwick had an impressive team in 1962. The Friars had three all-state players: DiLullo, guard Joe Marsico and running back Tim Wengierski (all three two went on to play at Notre Dame). Junior running back Dan Dinello made all-state in 1963.
Other key members were senior quarterback and captain John Gorman, who played football and basketball at Michigan State University; seniors Jim Daniels, Jim Gatziolis, Matt Hayes, Jim Selcke, and George Vrechek; junior Dick Ambrosino (Fenwick’s coach from 1986 through 1991); and junior Mike Barry, who coached both collegiately and professionally. In all, 15 members of the team played in college.
The Friars were a power-running team. Head coach John Jardine’s Wing-T offense produced 46 touchdowns (44 on the ground) and 312 rushing yards per game. DiLullo had 20 touchdowns, Wengierski nine, and Dinello eight.
“John was dynamite to play for,” said DiLullo of Jardine, who went 45-6-1 during his five seasons at Fenwick. “He was smart, progressive, and kept us all hopping. We’d do anything he asked us to do. He never asked us to do too much more than to play aggressive.”
Vrechek, who has been organizing the ‘62 team’s upcoming 60th reunion, also has fond memories of Jardine.
“Even though Coach Jardine was only 24 years old when he arrived in 1959, he earned our respect quickly,” he said in an interview published on Fenwick’s website. “He was fair, tough, and competitive, and he also had a sense of humor that surfaced on rare occasions.”
One of Jardine’s assistants was Rudy Gaddini, a 1953 alumnus who coached the backfield. DiLullo described Gaddini as smart and fun to be around.
“He had these sayings that always had us smiling, even on the field,” DiLullo said. “He and John brought in some pretty good ideas and knew their craft well. Every time we ran a play from the Wing-T, they would keep saying, “one more time” — even if we executed the play right. That gave us timing and a sense of accomplishment.”
Another assistant was line coach Jack Lewis, who DiLullo believed had an underrated sense of humor.
“He was the type of person who believed that when a play was drawn up on a piece of paper, he felt you had to follow that script only,” he said. “But it just didn’t happen. Once a play starts, it dissolves into whatever it’s going to be. He was funny, and we all joked about it.”
Although he wasn’t officially on Jardine’s staff, legendary coach Tony Lawless, who was Fenwick’s athletic director, also played a vital role in the ‘62 team’s success.
“Tony helped us learn how to punt. Because of this, we had a strong punting unit,” DiLullo said. “He helped out John and Rudy with a lot of information.”
DiLullo is part of a group of 36 players — along with Gaddini — who will be in town this week for the 60th reunion of the ‘62 team.
The group will meet at Fenwick on Sept. 16 for refreshments, then head over to Triton College in River Grove and meet head coach Matt Battaglia and this year’s Friars before the homecoming game against De La Salle. At halftime, the 1962 team will be introduced.
“We can’t believe it’s been 60 years,” DiLullo said. “This doesn’t happen often because usually so many people pass away. But there are a bunch of us still here and kicking. When we get together like this, we laugh and joke. It’s very easy to be around these guys.”
Friars fall to Providence in conference opener
Despite a fourth-quarter rally, this year’s Fenwick football team fell to 1-2 and 0-1 in the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference White Division for the season with a 25-22 loss to Providence Catholic on Sept. 9 at Triton College.
E.J. Hosty tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Jalen Williams (65 and 5 yards), and Nate Marshall had a pair of sacks for the Friars.