Forcucci guides Wheaton North to state title with stellar play at QB, strong leadership skills
Right before the chaos of the postgame celebration following Wheaton North's victory over St. Rita in the Class 7A state championship game, Mark Forcucci attempted to find a moment to reflect on his football journey.
Just a few minutes earlier, the Falcons had wrapped up one of the best seasons in program history. Forcucci torched St. Rita for 302 yards passing and 2 touchdowns in a 35-6 rout to cement his name into the school's football legacy.
The Falcons (13-1) won their fourth state title in school history -- the first since 1986 -- causing Forcucci to take a few seconds to appreciate the achievement.
"I was just looking back on the whole journey for the season," Forcucci said. "I was really cherishing all the memories for me, my teammates and friends who made the trip along the way. We worked so hard throughout the season. It was great to come out on top, especially for the seniors.
"That moment for me after the game, during the whole presentation ceremony of the trophy, was special. It was the first time seeing the trophy. It was, 'Wow.' This is something we've been working for the past four years. Now, to be getting the trophy, I was so proud of myself and the team."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Forcucci, who completed 148 of 220 passes for 2,149 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions, lifted the Falcons to new heights with his steady play, leadership and moxie. Forcucci, the Captain of the 2021 Daily Herald DuPage All-Area Football Team, credited the senior class for believing the Falcons had the makings of a state-title team. Wheaton North overcame a Week 3 defeat to Batavia to win its final 11 games.
"Since we were freshmen, we knew we were going to have a really good senior group," he said. "When the time finally came around summer camp this year, it was time to get to work. We knew we could have a special team.
"Everybody on the team bought into reaching our end goal. We had a great culture. Our junior year was tough, just not knowing when the season would start. Everything was out of our control, so we just put our noses down and worked, and then it all clicked for us in the spring. We knew we had a lot of experience and returning talent for this season."
Throughout the season, senior wide receiver Seth Kortenhoeven was Forcucci's favorite target, illustrated by his 66 receptions for 1,042 yards and 7 touchdowns. Kortenhoeven caught 7 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown in the state title game, including a 38-yarder in the second quarter to spark a 21-point explosion.
Kortenhoeven said Forcucci, a Holy Cross recruit, gave a stirring speech to the team during the warmups of the state championship game, removing his helmet and sending a message about working too hard to lose.
"What makes Mark such a good leader is that he genuinely loves the game of football and cares about the team and winning," Kortenhoeven said. "He also puts in so much hard work, and to see that just motivates you to do the same.
"That's definitely one of the big reasons we had success this season. He would stay after practice and just work on routes and timing, so we could get it right in the game."
Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said Forcucci was the ideal leader for his talented team, which featured one of the best defenses in the state. Wardynski said Forcucci's selfless attitude and work ethic rubbed off on his teammates, noting that his quarterback served as the ball boy during JV games.
"Mark's growth from his sophomore season to this season was huge," he said. "Physically, he got bigger and stronger, but mentally is where he really matured and embraced the quarterback position. He spent a lot of time with our quarterback coach, Evan James, who gave him a ton of feedback.
"Mark embraced all of that feedback, and was thankful for it. He truly became a student of the game. He improved to become the best player he could be and the best leader for our team."
The 17-year-old Forcucci, a three-year starter, said he began his football journey in third grade. He credits former Wheaton North standouts Xander Mueller, Clayton Thorson and Hugh Werner for mentoring him and providing guidance at different stages of his career.
"Winning a title is something I've dreamed of since I was a little kid," he said. "Playing on the varsity field and being able to take that all the way to DeKalb and win a state championship is just so surreal.
"There were definitely times I felt the pressure. But at the end of the day, I have the team around me and they believed in me, so that makes it that much easier to shrug off the pressure and focus on the moment ahead and what you have to accomplish."
THE DUPAGE COUNTY ALL-AREA TEAM
Name School Yr. Pos.
Trevor Burnett, Glenbard South, senior, RB
Griffin Carr, Hinsdale South, junior, OL/DL
Jeff Coglianese Jr., York, senior, LB
Palmer Domschke, Neuqua Valley, senior, RB/P/K
Cole Dutkovich, Neuqua Valley, junior, RB/LB
Reggie Fleurima, Naperville Central, senior, WR
*Mark Forcucci, Wheaton North, senior, QB
Colin Gudella, Glenbard North, senior LB
Jalen Johnson, Metea Valley, senior, WR/FS
Peter Jonanik, Wheaton Academy, senior, OL/LB
Seth Kortenhoeven, Wheaton North, senior, WR
Nick Mabutas, Willowbrook, senior, WR/DB
TJ McMillen, St. Francis, junior, OL/DL
Jackson McWhinney, Montini, SR, OL/LB
Owen O'Hara, Waubonsie Valley, senior, LB
Joey Pope, Glenbard West, junior, RB/DB
Ethan Robert, Naperville North, senior, RB
Paulie Robertson, Glenbard North, senior, OL
Matt Schager, Glenbard East, senior, LB
Thomas Skokna, Hinsdale Central, senior, WR
Chris Terek, Glenbard West, junior, OL/DL
Pierce Walsh, Benet, junior, WR/DE
Zeke Williams, Naperville North, senior, WR/KR
Reece Young, Wheaton Warrenville South, senior, WR/DB
* Honorary All-Area Captain
Sean Allison, Hinsdale Central, senior, RB/LB
Michael Carver, Montini, senior, RB/LB
Adam Criter, St. Francis, senior, WR/DB
Max Eick, Glenbard North, senior, DL;
Fred Elftmann, Wheaton North, senior, LB
Logan Frederick, Metea Valley, senior, QB
Aidan Gray, Naperville North, junior, QB
Max Grumbles, Naperville Central, senior, OL
Jimmy Hohnstein, Wheaton Warrenville South, senior, OL/DL
Connor Murphy, Glenbard South, senior, OL/DL
KJ Parker, IC Catholic, sophomore, WR/DB
Jake Pauline, Metea Valley, senior, OL
JT Pyle, Hinsdale Central, senior, LB
Ty Randle, Naperville Central, senior, DL
Antonio Richardson, IC Catholic Prep, senior, WR/DL
Carter Sessa, Neuqua Valley, senior, WR/DB
Pat Shadid, Glenbard West, senior, LB
Everett Snyder, York, senior, DL
Ethan Thulin, Downers Grove North, junior, WR/DB
Matt Vezza, York, junior, quarterback
Jack Wachtel, Naperville North, senior, OL
Tyrese Watson, Lisle, junior, RB/DB
Aidan Wiltshire, Neuqua Valley, senior, DL
Mason Wright, West Chicago, senior, WR/DB