On the stage, in the studio or on the soccer field, Joe Zawacki is a performer.
Zawacki, a defender, is part of a deep senior class for the Friars, who beat Mount Carmel 2-1 on Thursday. Junior forward Ali Velliotis has scored 17 goals to pace Fenwick (13-4-1, 5-2-1 Catholic League), but first-year coach Craig Blazer said Zawacki brings a unique dynamic to the team.
“A guy like Joe has completely embraced the way we want to play,” Blazer said. “Being comfortable with himself, being a leader in his own right, he’s coach-ish on the field. You can hear him sharing our message. He literally knows what the script is.
“Our training sessions are rehearsal. That’s how his mind works. And when you’re lucky enough to get in the game, it’s fun but it’s also your responsibility to follow through.”
Last year, the script called for Zawacki to sit out all season with a stress fracture in his left leg. Despite being heavily involved with Fenwick’s theater scene — he was in nine acts during the Friars’ “Banua” variety show as a junior — he knew he would be back for his senior season.
“I knew I was coming back regardless of how my leg would heal,” Zawacki said. “The group of guys, there’s just so much on the line on varsity. Just seeing it as a junior last year, seeing the camaraderie and everything, I knew I wanted to be part of it. I had to be.”
That camaraderie extends to his love of music. In fourth grade at St. Giles School in Oak Park, Zawacki starting playing saxophone. He said he was hooked as soon as he played his first successful note.
In fifth grade, he began playing the piano with the help of coach Nate Kelsey. They continued to train together for years until Kelsey moved to Boston.
Then, in the summer between fourth and fifth grades, he participated in a Christian youth musical theater camp called Spotlight. In the spring of fifth grade, he was in a production of “Robin Hood.” He did “a show or two every year” with Christian Youth Theater from fifth grade through his junior year.
As a freshman, Zawacki became involved with School of Rock in Oak Park. There, he focuses on voice and piano lessons “full-throttle” and aims for five nights of practice per week.
All of his musical endeavors share a common link with soccer.
“Being in a band or on a team, there always is a sense of you only being as good as your weakest link,” Zawacki said. “You have to pick each other up and keep each other accountable. If you have a great singer or guitar player, if you don’t have a good rhythm section or drums, it won’t sound good. If you have the best midfield and attackers but no defense, you’re going to lose. So you can see those components.”
Zawacki plans to major in engineering in college, likely at either Notre Dame or USC. Both schools have strong music scenes, and he said he hopes to pursue a minor in a music-related field.
For now, the Oak Park resident will enjoy his final soccer season and look forward to many more musical opportunities.
“I think there’s more of a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment when you get in there, when you accomplish something with a team or band rather than doing something by yourself," he said.
Rich Mayor is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.