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There was a reason Jim Schwantz wanted No. 81 for his Fremd football uniform.
Not because it was worn by his favorite NFL player. Or his favorite college player.
"I wore 81 because Steve Marchewka wore 81," Schwantz said of his boyhood neighbor and the Fremd star he idolized. "It was great to grow up watching a kid like Steve and Fremd football.
"I remember watching Fremd play at Arlington High School. I have vivid memories of those days."
All of the memorable moments of what has been one of the Mid-Suburban League's most successful football programs will be celebrated at tonight's home game with Prospect.
Schwantz and Marchewka are two of 26 of the program's greatest players who will be honored on Fremd's 50th Anniversary Football Team. Head coaches Joe Samojedny and Mike Donatucci, who have combined for 227 victories since 1974, will also be recognized.
In a fitting touch, they will all be introduced in an on-field ceremony at approximately 6:45 p.m. by someone who has seen all of them play and coach, retired Daily Herald high school sports guru Bob Frisk.
The players range from Jerry Finis, who was Fremd's first all-state player in 1972, to Brian Bobek, who received all-state and All-American honors last season and is now at Ohio State.
"It also means I'm the oldest," Finis said with a laugh of being first on the list to be introduced.
Fremd athletic director Augie Fontanetta felt the school should do something to celebrate a program that is trying to extend MSL-record streaks of 16 playoff appearances and eight division titles.
Then came the tough part of determining how to choose such a select group. The 26 players have been honored either as All-Americans, first-team all-staters, MSL division offensive or defensive MVPs or Daily Herald All-Area captains.
The three All-Americans are Bobek, offensive lineman Christian Lombard (2009) and George Poorman (1987). The four Daily Herald captains are quarterbacks Patrick Brown (1998), Scott Tolzien (2005) and Mark Tolzien (2007) and running back Evan Wright (2009).
All-staters include Finis and his brother Marty (1978), Marchewka (1980), Jeff Huber (1982), Schwantz (1987), Lou Sponsel (1996), Andre Duncan (1997), Paul Daou (2001), Jamil Walker (2003), Jake Smith (2006) and Jon Diegel (2007).
Among those with MSL MVP honors are Chris Barton (1992), Ken Kemeny (1999), Brian Zaworski (2000), Steve LaFalce (2001), Nick Marchand (2002), Joe Busse (2005), Nick Hilliard (2007) and Jayme Szafranski (2009).
That's a team you'd take your chances with against anybody.
"When (Fremd director of football operations) Mike Brown reached out to me and let me know what was going on, I was pretty stoked about it." said Schwantz, who had a six-year NFL career with the Bears, Cowboys and 49ers and is now the mayor of Palatine. "It's exciting when you start to look through the list of guys and the names of the athletes before me and who have come through since."
Starting with Finis, who went on to become a second-team all-Big Ten offensive lineman at Illinois in 1976 and is the CEO of the Pathways Senior Living Center in Des Plaines. And Finis said a big starting point was Samojedny.
"Being around people like him, they were great role models for all of us to have," Finis said, "to teach us that you have to work hard if you want to get something.
"Those things make a big difference to the successes of a program and that success feeds on itself a little bit."
So does the rare stability of having just two head coaches in nearly 40 years. Finis and Schwantz have continued to witness it as their kids have attended, are attending or will be going to Fremd.
"Obviously what coach 'Samo' did when he took over the program and what coach Donatucci has done is tremendous," Schwantz said. "There is a lot of pride playing for Fremd High School."
It will be on display tonight as the majority of the players honored are expected to attend. Some of the younger ones have college playing commitments and Scott Tolzien is still working on his "job interview" with the San Diego Chargers.
The honored players will get a chance to meet the current team before the game and then have a postgame get-together at Oak Alley in Palatine, which is owned by former Fremd player Mike Horst.
"You're celebrating the individuals but in a team sport like football, you're really celebrating the program," Schwantz said. "It's not just the 26 individuals whose names that are going to be read. It's a program recognition in my mind."
And a pretty cool way to recognize part of a program's history.