By Brad Spencer
It was a hot summer day and OPRF head football coach John Hoerster was standing in the middle of the street on the 600 block of South Kenilworth Avenue in Oak Park enjoying the drumbeat from a live band and the refreshing taste of a cold beverage.
The topic was the OPRF baseball team's recent state championship victory over Lyons Township. Hoerster was praising fellow head coach Chris Ledbetter's efforts in directing the ballclub to the program's first state title victory since 1980. It was the third time Ledbetter had coached an OPRF team to a state baseball championship appearance in his 12 years as skipper.
"And then there's the football program," sighed Hoerster, whose first-year at the helm consisted of a 3-6 overall record that included just one victory in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference. Someone demurred, "It takes time," to which Hoerster knowingly nodded and agreed.
Here we are in late October, many months removed from the day Hoerster, myself and others stood in the street during a block party discussing the high school's athletic achievements. His Huskies have since grinded out six victories, matching the most wins in a single season since 2006.
Hoerster has made progress in his second season at the helm. It's a respectable start, but what would put OPRF football back on the map of course would be a first-round playoff victory. It's remarkable that the program hasn't won a playoff game since 1992. The school's classification enrollment, which has always been ample, topped out at 3,268 this year, a number that exceeds that of seven of the team's nine regular season opponents. For such a large school, a successful football program has long been in the works.
What's that you're hearing? Why, it's the lyrics to Bob Seger's song "Like a Rock."
Twenty years now, where'd they go?
Twenty years, I don't know.
I sit and I wonder sometimes where they've gone.
Hoerster's on the right path. His personnel numbers across the levels increased over the last two seasons, although not by much. But the numbers are expected to go up significantly in the coming years with Hoerster now a faculty staff member at the school, in addition to being a resident of Oak Park.
"I really believed in the potential of this program from the moment I sat down for my first interview," he said last week. "Last year we were really young, and I believed that if we could get these young kids to buy in to what we were selling in 2011, and we could get them to understand the rewards of hard work, discipline and enthusiasm — even at 6 a.m. in the weight room — then the sky was the limit. They have clearly bought in."
Hoerster is spotted around town all the time, eager to talk football or anything else.
Don't be surprised if he shows up at your block party.
Answer Book 2018
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