By Johnny Lattner ’50 (originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, May 30, 2007)
Growing up on Chicago’s West Side near Cicero and Madison, I could have gone to St. Mel, St. Phillip, Austin or St. Ignatius. I decided on Fenwick because I knew it was a good academic school and I had heard about the football program coached by Tony Lawless.
I was a big kid in eighth grade, 6-1, more recruited for basketball than football, and I almost went to St. Phillip because of coach Bill Shay, who later coached at Fenwick. But I wanted to see if I could play football at Fenwick. It was a challenge.
At the time, I didn’t know if I would go to college. Neither of my parents nor my older brother and sister went to college. They couldn’t afford it. At Fenwick, I learned a lot. I wasn’t dumb, but it took me a year to acclimate to the school. And Lawless taught me so much.
Fenwick had won the city championship in 1945. I went to the game at Soldier Field and was impressed. I knew Lawless was a hard-nosed coach who taught the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. He was a winner, a legendary figure on the West Side.
He taught me persistence and fundamentals, not to think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.
“[Coach] Lawless taught me … persistence and fundamentals, not to think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.”– the late, great John Lattner ’50
I never regretted my decision to go to Fenwick.
Learning to play both ways – I also was a defensive back – helped me to win the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame. I went there because, like Fenwick, it was a challenge. Some people said I wasn’t fast enough and never would play at Notre Dame, that I’d just be another number on the roster.
But Lawless taught me to stick to my books, to hang in there, to play when you’re hurt.
It helped me to get through Notre Dame. I was in awe of the program … Frank Leahy, Leon Hart, Terry Brennan, Johnny Lujack, George Conner.
They were unbeaten for four years. I hoped to make a name for myself.