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."

Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win


Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Jeremy Colliton's first NHL win

For the first time since Oct. 25, the Blackhawks are back in the win column. A weight has been lifted off their shoulders after going winless in their previous eight games (0-6-2).

But it was an extra special night for the Blackhawks, who helped Colliton earn his first victory as an NHL head coach and celebrated by giving him the game puck.

"I’m just here to help them," Colliton said. "So it's kind of awkward, actually. But I do appreciate the gesture and for me, it’s just, hopefully we can get some momentum going and build on it."

2. Corey Crawford puts up a goose egg

Going into the game, Crawford had a 3.07 goals against average and .901 save percentage, which are below average numbers. But he certainly hasn't played that way. He was often the Blackhawks' best player during their losing streak and has deserved better fate than he's gotten.

By stopping all 28 shots he faced, Crawford earned his first shutout since Nov. 4, 2017 when he made 24 saves in a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild.

"It's nice," Crawford said. "That's the goal, not let any in. But I thought everyone contributed to that. ... We've been waiting a while, kind of forgot what it was like to win there for a bit."

3. Power play breaks through

Finally. After an 0-for-10 drought, the Blackhawks scored a power play goal on their first try of the night and didn't need much time to do it.

Just 35 seconds into a Vladimir Tarasenko hooking penalty, Brent Seabrook cashed in after his shot trickled past Jake Allen and went in off a Blues defenseman's skate to make it 1-0 at 4:05 of the second period. It was the only goal of the game, proving to be the game-winner. 

The Blackhawks finished 1-for-2 in that department against a Blues team that came into the game with a 27.6 percent success rate, which ranked fifth in the NHL.

"It's a good feeling," Seabrook said. "It was nice to hear some music when they came in here after the game tonight. The boys are all fired up. The way we played going into the second period, being able to score a goal, hold onto the lead I think the way everybody played. Everybody stuck with it. Everybody stuck with the game plan. Everybody worked hard. It was a real team effort. ... It took all 20 guys out there tonight to get the job done."

4. Playing the right way leads to results

For six periods in a row, the Blackhawks have been either the better team or it was evenly matched. Giving up two power-play goals in 66 seconds to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday was basically the difference in that game and special teams played a major role in this one as well. 

Colliton felt like the Blackhawks were, overall, trending in the right direction despite not getting the end results over the previous three games. He got both against the Blues, which was fitting considering the losing streak started vs. St. Louis.

"That was the part of the package that was missing," Colliton said. "Happy for the guys to get rewarded. It’s not a lot of fun to see the results add up. Very happy for the group, they battled really hard, especially in the third when the game was on the line. We found a way to get some pucks out and win some 50-50s and got a couple saves and hopefully that relieves a little bit of the tension in the team and they can play a little more free. Because we’ve been talking about it, but it’s easier said than done."

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox


Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

*                          *                          *

If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

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So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly fazed by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."