Preps Talk

Spillane carries Lattner tradition at Fenwick


Spillane carries Lattner tradition at Fenwick

Robert Spillane is Fenwick's workhorse, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior tailback and one of four cousins on coach Gene Nudo's roster who have picked up the torch left by their grandfather, the legendary Johnny Lattner, a two-time All-Stater on Fenwick's 1948 and 1949 Prep Bowl teams and the 1953 Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame.

Fenwick is all about history...from Tony Lawless to Dan O'Brien to Bill Shay to Ken Sitzberger to Ed Norris to Motts Tonelli to John Jardine to Corey Maggette to Mike Healy to Johnny Barrett to Mike Rabold to Johnny Lattner.

Johnny Lattner celebrated his 80th birthday at a big family gathering at the Spillane home last Saturday. About 40 people were there...children, grandchildren, cousins. At such occasions, he often takes time to sing the Fenwick fight song.

"I guess I didn't realize how much of a legend he really was until 2005, when he took me and my other cousins to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony," Spillane said. "We met Vince Young and Reggie Bush. All the former winners loved to meet him. He is the oldest living winner.

"I think he is a huge legend, especially in the family. There are so many stories. He will stay a legend even when he passes. At Fenwick, he is on the Wall of Fame. I hope I'll be there someday. I hope I can live up to what he lived up to be."

Spillane and his three cousins--senior safety John Lattner, senior wide receiver Danny Lattner and junior tight end Ryan Smith--are frequently reminded of their grandfather's legacy. There are old helmets and posters of him around their homes. He attends every football game. In fact, he used to attend the youngsters' flag football games.

"He is a caring man. The cousins always have been close to him," Spillane said. "He brings breakfast and eats at our house. He uses his Heisman Trophy as a doorstop. But he also auctions it for charities. Donate money and you can have the trophy for a while and he gives the money to a charity. My dream is to play football at Notre Dame. I would want to walk where he walked at Notre Dame."

Lattner is very proud of his grandchildren. Spillane has rushed for 860 yards and six touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 230 yards and eight touchdowns. And there are two more Lattners on the way. Luke, John Lattner's brother, is a basketball player. Will, also John's brother, is a freshman who plays football and basketball.

"Going into this season, we thought we would go to running back by committee with Spillane and Pat Hart alternating on each series," Nudo said. "But Robert did so many good things and Pat has had a great year on defense (Player of the Year in the Catholic League's White Division) as a linebacker."

Nudo, who launched Driscoll's football dynasty by producing a state championship team in 1991, has quickly repaired a fractured program that was 4-6 last year and had fielded only five winning teams in the last 13 years. The Friars (8-2) will meet top-ranked, unbeaten and two-time defending Class 7A champion Rockford Boylan on Saturday in Rockford.

"I like how we got coach Nudo into the program. He brought in new stuff and new organization. He changed the whole face of Fenwick football," Spillane said. "We are more focused, more hungry to win. Last year was disappointing. We didn't have the same work ethic as this year. We wasted a lot of talent.

"Coach Nudo carries his own tradition with him. He won a state title at Driscoll and he won as a professional coach. He is building his own tradition. He will be the face of Fenwick in the future, like my grandfather. He will be one of the great coaches ever to coach at Fenwick."

It is surprising that Spillane had so much time to evaluate Nudo and express his feelings to a reporter. He didn't have much time to celebrate Fenwick's spectacular 10-9 victory over Huntley last Saturday night. The Friars drove 45 yards in the last three minutes to win on Zach Laszkiewicz's 27-yard field goal with no time on the clock.

Only a few hours later, at 6 o'clock on Sunday morning, before the sun was up, Spillane and his cousins and their teammates gathered at the Oak Park school to lift weights and watch film of the Huntley game. And Nudo and his staff met to begin preparing a game plan for Boylan.

"We knew Boylan would be a challenge," Nudo said. "But look at the Class 7A pairings. Where do you want to go? Glenbard West? Lincoln-Way East? Wheaton North? It is loaded with quality teams. You have to beat good teams to win the title in 7A. And Boylan kids know how to win."

Nudo has already achieved some of his first-year goals. The Friars won their division title, qualified for the playoff and won a playoff game. "It isn't a program until you win a playoff game," he said.

Another goal was to have as many one-way players as possible. Only one player will start both ways at Boylan, 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior tackle Kyle Pullia.

Pullia is one of eight Fenwick players who landed on the All-Catholic squad. The others are Spillane, Hart, Laszkiewicz, John Lattner, senior defensive end Rich Lasek, senior guard Rocco Stefanini and senior center Jim Krecek. Seventeen of the 63 varsity players are on the National Honor Society.

"This is the beginning of a new era at Fenwick. We're trying to write our own chapter. I'm not Tony Lawless or John Jardine. It's hard to walk these hallways and not know about those people. The alumni believe in the past. You have earned the right to wear the uniform. The great 1962 team had its 50th reunion a month ago."

Nudo said he force feeds his players with big helpings of tradition. He breaks his squad up into 10 weight lifting groups and each one represents a well-known alumnus of the school, like Gov. Pat Quinn or astronaut Joe Kerwin or Pulitzer Prize winner Phil Caputo or NBA star Corey Maggette.

"The players write letters to them," Nudo said. "We send difference-makers out into the world and we want our kids to be difference-makers and we want them to know about the others who came through this school. It makes me feel we're doing the right thing here. We want the to know what this place is about and want them to be a part of it."

NBC Sports Chicago to air live coverage of the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show on October 21


NBC Sports Chicago to air live coverage of the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show on October 21

NBC Sports Chicago to carry LIVE announcement for every first round match-up on Saturday, October 21 beginning at 8:00 PM CT; to also be streamed live on & via the NBC Sports app

Bloomington, IL/Chicago, IL (October 17, 2017) -- The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football Playoff Pairing Show returns to NBC Sports Chicago for its seventh season in 2017. NBC Sports Chicago, the multi-platform home for the most games and the most comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox, will air the show live on NBC Sports Chicago+ on Saturday, October 21 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM CT. Viewers are urged to visit NBC Sports Chicago’s “Channel Finder” page ( for exact NBC Sports Chicago+ channel locations in their area.
The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show, which will reveal the brackets and first round match-ups of all 256 playoff qualifiers across eight classes, can also be viewed via live interactive stream beginning at 8:00 PM on Saturday at and via the NBC Sports app.

"The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show' continues to be one of the most highly-anticipated events in the state of Illinois and we couldn't be prouder to once again showcase two-straight hours of live, interactive coverage across all platforms on Saturday night," said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

NBC Sports Chicago anchor Leila Rahimi hosts the show and will be joined by a panel of experts on-set, including long-time IHSA TV announcer Dave Bernhard and Illinois high school football bracketologist Steve Soucie. IHSA TV veteran Camron Smith will breakdown each class with media members from around the state, including NBC Sports Chicago prep football expert “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the show and ask questions to be answered during the program by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #IHSAbrackets.

The program will once again feature highlights, coaches interviews and media analysis from all over the state. In addition, NBC Sports Chicago will be gathering teams & fan reaction moments throughout the “Land of Lincoln” on Saturday from numerous school playoff pairing parties taking place that evening.

“This is one of the most anticipated nights of the year on the IHSA calendar,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Student-athletes, coaches and communities around the state have put their hearts into the last nine weeks, and for 256 teams, it’s an amazing chance to celebrate their accomplishments, while looking ahead to the path to the IHSA Football State Finals. We appreciate the time and effort that our partners at NBC Sports Chicago put into making this night so special.”

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show kicks off NBC Sports Chicago’s playoff coverage of IHSA Football, which culminates with all eight state title games being televised and streamed by NBC Sports Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 24-25), live from Huskie Stadium on the Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb.

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

Only a couple names went off the board of 2014 draftees who reached agreements on extensions with their teams, with Zach LaVine sitting on the sidelines as the midnight deadline came and went.

His debut in a Bulls uniform and contract will have to wait.

Although LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls front office remained in communication, there was never any serious talk of a deal being reached and he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer.

The Bulls will have a better picture of what type of player LaVine is post-surgery on his left knee, and LaVine will have a chance to reconstruct his market value the way he’s done to his knee—as evidenced by his casual stroll down the lane, two dribbles and two-handed dunk while running a dummy offense with the assistant coaches over the weekend at the Advocate Center.

His return isn’t imminent, as he’s still weeks away from being cleared to practice, following the track of his rehab from surgery.

Perhaps in a bit of curious timing, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about LaVine, saying his future shooting guard wasn’t going through much in the way of 5-on-0 drills.

“The big focus right now is on his rehab,” Hoiberg said.

But considering how few options Hoiberg has on a team that isn’t expected to win more than 20 games, the thought of how he’ll use LaVine on the floor in this offense isn’t unrealistic.

“He's doing a lot of unpredictable movements, but a lot of that is 1-on-0 workouts. Yeah, absolutely there's things we look at and see actions that other teams might be running for their skilled players or shooters.”

Justin Holiday will be keeping the seat warm for LaVine until LaVine is completely healed from his surgery, and while the Bulls are adhering to the nine-month recovery prognosis after his February surgery, his return will be highly anticipated.

“Some of the things we're running for Justin right now I think will be very good for Zach as well,” Hoiberg said. “Then we're going to get both of those guys on the floor, it's going to give you two really good options as far as shooting and spacing and two athletic wing players.”

With the Bulls in the infancy stages of a rebuild, LaVine’s success is one they’ll be invested in above any other player on the roster considering the financial stakes.

LaVine can command a deal well over $100 million this summer and will join the likes of draftmates Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon into the always-tricky world of restricted free agency.

The Bulls have done this dance before, most recently with Jimmy Butler before Butler blossomed into an All-Star. There was a small gulf between Butler’s contract wishes and the Bulls offer before the 2014-15 season began, one that resulted in Butler receiving a max contract when Butler took the biggest single-season leap in his career.

Preserving precious salary cap space has been paramount for the Bulls, who originally signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to short-term deals with an eye on the summer of 2018, believing many teams will have overspent with the salary cap boom.

In that instance, they’re correct and are in position to have among the most cap space in the NBA next summer when Wade’s contract buyout runs off the books being close to $40 million under the cap. As of now, only Robin Lopez is guaranteed over $10 million for next season and Nikola Mirotic’s deal is a team option.

For LaVine, he began to blossom playing as a third wheel behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota before tearing his ACL. If he’s a reasonable facsimile physically, he will produce at a higher clip than scoring 18.9 points as a No. 1 option in Chicago.

As the centerpiece in the Butler trade, the Bulls have no intentions on letting him walk and LaVine is even more incentivized to perform for a potential max contract.

“I'm very excited about Zach. You can tell how much he wants to be out there with our guys. Every day he comes in and says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go out there',” Hoiberg said. “It's a process. We have to make sure he 100 percent healthy, even though he feels no symptoms right now at all. He's got no soreness in that leg. But he can't wait, his teammates can't wait and the staff obviously is very excited to get him back out there.”