Speedy Soph

NC's Fennell enjoys explosive start to football season

September 1, 2021 Cranberry Local Sports

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Butler resident and North Catholic sophomore Jack Fennell runs downfield for a score during the Trojans' 62-0 win at Hopewell last Friday.

Jack Fennell's family is heavily involved in baseball.

He is no stranger to the diamond, where he excels in a summer league as a center fielder, but his passion — and future — are invested elsewhere.

A sophomore running back at North Catholic, Fennell opened the season with a bang last Friday. He scored three touchdowns in a victory at Hopewell. Two of the scores came on punt returns and another on a 10-yard rush.

In total, the Penn Township resident touched the ball nine times and gained 227 all-purpose yards. That total included 169 yards on three punt returns and 58 yards on just six carries.

Fennell scored on his first and third punt returns. His second nearly ended with pay dirt, but he was tackled after 60 yards.

“I was surprised they kept kicking it to me,” he said. “When I got the last one, I saw a huge hole and I just took off.

“Our special teams were clicking and the offensive line played really well.”

North Catholic has a number of players capable of long gains and Fennell has thrust himself into that conversation.

“He had a phenomenal game,” said North coach Patrick O'Shea. “Last year, we tried to ease Jack into the offense. Being just a freshman, we didn't want to overwhelm him. He started to understand the offense more as the season went on.

“He's so blessed with speed and extremely talented.”

Three of Fennell's older brothers — Mick, Ryan and Jason — each went on to play baseball in college. His father, Jay Fennell, is a former varsity baseball coach at Butler and is still heavily involved in the sport.

Jack picked up baseball at a young age, but his preference shifted when he began playing football at age 11.

“I still play baseball in the summer, but football is my focus,” he said. “I was actually a quarterback at Knoch Middle School, but we ran the triple option, so I ran the football a lot.”

Running away from defenses could become a familiar sight from Fennell in a Trojans' uniform. To that end, he joined North's track team last spring and earned a spot at the state championship meet. His best time in the 100-meter dash was 11.25 seconds and he also starred on the 4x100 relay that won a WPIAL title.

“I had fun running track, but it helped me in football and that was my main goal,” said Fennell (5-foot-10, 170 pounds). “I gained speed this offseason and gained 15 pounds, all in muscle.

“I love running the ball because it allows me to use my vision, which just comes naturally to me. It's one of my best traits on the football field.”

Fennell does not plan to have his playing career end when he graduates high school. His dream is to play Division I college football.

He may be taking a different path from that of his brothers, but O'Shea sees a common theme.

“His family is so deeply-rooted in hard work,” he said. “It's part of everything they do.”

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Derek Pyda

Derek Pyda

- Graduated from Connellsville High School in 1996
- Graduated from Clarion University in 2000 with a Bachelors in Communications
- Have also written for Clarion News (Clarion, PA) and the Herald-Standard (Uniontown, PA)
- Started at the Butler Eagle on April 2, 2002
- Interests include sports, history and geography