Features | Friday Night Drive

Fenwick preparing to defend state title with new faces on both sides of ball

Fenwick head coach Matt Battaglia calls a time out during their IHSA Class 5A state semifinal game against Sycamore Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Triton College in River Grove.

Fenwick will have a new look this season as it tries to defend its state title.

The defending Class 5A champions will have plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball and a new defensive coordinator, but the Friars haven’t lost the work ethic needed to get back to the top.

“I’ve never seen a team so ready to work,” senior lineman Aaron Johnson said. “I think everyone is on the same page that we need to work to win the state title back.”

Fenwick lost most of its statistical leaders on both sides of the ball because of graduation, and defensive coordinator Titcus Pettigrew left the program to become the defensive coordinator at Bolingbrook. The Friars’ top-three finishers in tackles last season, Conor Paris, Martin Paris and Suleiman Abuaqel, all graduated.

Head coach Matt Battaglia has been impressed with what he’s seen early in camp despite losing seven starters on defense. After spending much of June working in the weight room, the Friars defensive players who are battling for starting spots have impressed with their play on the field in July.

“We got some really smart kids who are just really eager to line up,” Battaglia said, “play defense and make the defense great.”

Fenwick also will have a lot of turnover on offense with the loss of seven starters. Quarterback Kaden Cobb (Ball State), top-three receivers Eian Pugh (Illinois), Max Reese (Eastern Michigan) and Bryan Hunt, lead rushers Danny Kent and Jaque Walls and offensive lineman Jimmy Liston (Purdue) all graduated.

Fenwick's fans celebrate after a touchdown by Kaden Cobb (2) during the IHSA Class 5A  varsity football quarterfinal playoff game between Fenwick High School and Nazareth Academy on Saturday, November 13, 2021 in La Grange Park.

Senior EJ Hosty and junior Marek Hill will battle to replace Cobb at quarterback while a group of sophomores and juniors are battling to find playing time both catching and running the ball. Battaglia was impressed with the way wide receiver and defensive back Dennis Moore has taken more of a leadership role during the summer as the Friars work to build momentum in time for the season.

Seniors like Johnson have spent the summer teaching newer players how much work it takes to reach a state title. Johnson knows the Friars are talented enough to return to the state title game and has enjoyed the experience of teaching the next wave of players.

“It’s a lot of pressure on us as the incoming seniors filling in for those old guys to make the rest of the team better,” Johnson said. “I think we’re doing a really good job of that as returning seniors.”

The Friars know there’s still a lot of work left to do before they kick off the season against Oak Park-River Forest on Aug. 27. Both sides of the ball are still learning plays and working on gaining experience with each other.

Although the Friars are preparing to not only defend their CCL/ESCC division title but also a state championship, Fenwick has moved on from last year and is ready to get to work with a new cast.

“We’re not really looking back at all,” Battaglia said. “Our mentality has been on the group we have right now and developing guys as leaders, seeing who wants to step up as leaders as people who are going to bring the team together and bring us all together.”