Marian Central Head Coach Darren Fortin has been somewhat of the man behind the curtain, always known as the quiet storm who can whip up emotion and motivation, but never sought out the credit, he very much deserved. Fortin has been that coach, willing to fill whatever the need from Varsity Linebacker coach or Head Freshman Football Coach with the Hurricanes to an Assistant with our NIFC Champion 8th grade team. That opportunity came recently with the vacated Head Football Coach position which needed the guidance, leadership and loyalty that only Darren Fortin could provide. He came from humble beginnings, starting his football career in 1977 with the Fighting Irish, then onto Marian, where he was Defensive Captain for the 1983 State Championship team and playing football with the Villanova Wildcats soon after as the long snapper and backup linebacker. To say Fortin’s breadth of knowledge of the game, the program and the community is at an experts level may just be an understatement. Coach Fortin was kind enough, sitting down with me recently to get some insight from him on the future and perspective on the his past.
So tell me about your football journey: "I started playing when I was in 6th Grade, when I was growing up that is when organized football started us playing. I started at St Mary and due to my weight at that age I was a Guard/center and LB. We were all 3-4 sport athletes, in our family and at St Mary. I grew up awkward and overweight and Football offered a way to be involved and “throw my weight around” it also gave me an outlet to relieve anxiety and anger that most kids grew up with."
What is your fondest memory of playing football when you were a little kid with the Fighting Irish: "When I was at St Mary it was a totally St Mary School program we did not have a lot of kids so most of us played 2 games every weekend, so really, the fondest memories would be the tightness of the team at all levels. One good memory is from our yearly crosstown game vs Olson, although we did not win or lose (it was a tie), Woodstock has always been a tight community where you grew up playing sports with all the kids your age, so we all knew each other (4 years later many of the players that participated in this game were important parts of 2 state championships won in Woodstock). St Mary had coaches that would really teach us to be humble and we followed that, after weeks of hearing how the Olson team was going to destroy us, and they did not, we enjoyed their frustration after the game, realizing that they did not live up to all their chirping and reinforcing what our coaches instilled in us. It would have been nice to win, but a tie was better than letting them live up to all their trash talking."
What type of changes have you seen in the sport over the years: "Safety has been the biggest and best change to the game, from equipment to coaching of proper technique and fundamentals of tackling. The Offense has been opened up and spread out to mirror college and professional games. On the negative side…fundamentals of blocking, running routes, catching, running, etc have taken a back seat to X’s and O’s."
What advice can you give the upcoming freshman who will be playing for the Marian Central Hurricanes: "I try to communicate that the sport of football prepares them for life, hard work, commitment, working with a team, putting others first, and one of the most important lessons to learn from mistakes. It is a sport that will improve problem solving skills. I let the athletes know that the time will go by quickly and that they should work hard but enjoy the experience. Finally, I try and make sure they understand that if they work hard at their sports and in school, that Marian will give them an advantage going into the work force or on to college."
You have been a witness and member or some of the most legendary team’s with the most legendary players at Marian Central can you share a fond memory on championship runs or what it is like coaching “special athletes”: "I have been very blessed to be part of the first State Championship in 1983. Enter coaching with the 1989 team. Watch Jason Liska set State records with yardage. John Budmyr, Brian Bulaga, Sean Swynar make great run at another championship. When you are coaching these great people that happen to play football you really don’t realize how great they are until their time at Marian is over. As a coach we keep trying to get them to their goals and exceed them that it is hard to enjoy that moment. I would put the 1989 championship as one of the greatest, most memorable championships, due to losing a great man and Coach earlier that year and watching Steve Patton continue the program based on what he and the staff learned from Coach Penza."
You have coached in many capacities, from head coach to position coach, from St. Mary’s football to the Hurricanes…what is one aspect that you feel makes you successful regardless of the level or responsibility: "The main thought process, no matter where I am coaching, is to treat each player as an individual, all people/players respond differently. As a coach our job is to try and reach each individual player so that they realize that we are here to help them become successful, that no matter their skill level that they are part of the team. I learned that from Coach Penza and that lesson, I feel, has helped me in my coaching career."
One big hot-button item for the future of Marian Central football is scheduling and conference; can you give me your thoughts on that: "With the Chicago Catholic League it is one of the best if not the toughest football conference in the state, great challenge week in – week out. I believe we will continue to compete at a high level for the next 2 years. There are several leagues that have 3-4 competitive teams every year, this conference has 8 or more teams every year that will compete to get to the playoffs. Nazareth and Joliet Catholic last year…with the expansion in 2019 we have the 8A lineup of St Rita and Loyola next year. With Districting travel is a big improvement for our athletes. Traveling to Marian Catholic/Joliet Catholic/Marist on a Friday night during rush hour has been brutal. The ability to play closer to home against quality competition will be a plus. It also will expose Marian more in the area."
What is something you miss about High School Football, specifically playing at Marian: "Luckily, I have not missed out on anything due to being at Marian since graduating College, I do miss the great times on and off the field as a player with our group when I went through Marian. I do miss the contact and the outlet that football provided. One thing the sport has taught me is to never be satisfied, always strive to learn more, do better, look for new challenges, and always play between the whistles (by the rules)."
What is one thing that you learned in youth football, that you still commit to and/or practice in the real world: "We are all in this together…..6th grade year and many years after that, from teams to community. Sports are still the best environment that can bring together all races, religions and political affiliations to work together."
How does your faith fit play a role in your life both on the sidelines and off the field: "The great part of coaching at Catholic programs has been the ability to stress and show our faith, I have never coached in the Public school system, but watching news stories where coaches and players have been punished or fired due to sharing their faith reinforces my decision to stay at St Mary and Marian. The main role my faith plays on the field and off the field is that there is a strong foundation on how to treat players, parents, coaches, referees and the opponents. My faith keeps me focused on helping others reach their potential."