By Marty Farmer
Next year Simmie Cobbs will attend Purdue University and spend his weekends playing football for the Boilermakers. But before the 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver gradutes Oak Park and River Forest High School in June, he recently offered this apt description regarding OPRF head coach John Hoerster's motivational techniques.
"Coach Hoerster is like one of those coaches in the movies. He starts out talking kind of slow and quiet and then it builds as he goes along. By the end of his speeches, we're all so fired up and motivated to play. He's a great coach and motivator who knows how to win. After I caught a touchdown pass against Proviso West in my first game back [this season] he hugged me and said, 'welcome back'. I'll never forget that moment."
Wow, now that's an endorsement! All that's missing is the proverbial 1980s cinematic slow-to-frenzied hand clap a la "Lucas" and "Hoosiers".
Anybody who attended an OPRF football game this season witnessed spectacular and clutch plays by Huskies like Cobbs, Lloyd Yates, Jamal Baggett, Allen Stallings and Xavier Rowe among others, but I was afforded the unique opportunity as a reporter to listen in on Hoerster's postgame huddles. That's where the substantive magic truly transpired.
After the team (win or lose) would acknowledge the OPRF fans with a spirited rendition of the school fight song, the players would gather, take a knee and listen to the Gospel of Hoerster. Over the course of the Huskies' unforgettable season, virtually every emotion was shared in those sacrosanct circles. Expressions of jubilation, laughter and pride were a common refrain as the Huskies captured 9 wins in 11 games. Hoerster possesses an innate gift to make players believe. Heck, even I wanted to throw on some eye black and a helmet after one of his inspiring gems.
The final Hoerster huddle resonated particularly deeply for the players - especially the seniors. Tears flowed freely and disappointment understandably hovered above the Huskies' circle in the aftermath of their 34-21 loss to Maine South at Oak Park Stadium in the Class 8A playoffs.
While Hoerster claimed culpabilty for losing the field position battle early on, and the Huskies did commit too many penalties (including controversial ones) against Maine South, there's no doubt the players left it all out on the field. I think a tip of the cap is also due to the visiting Hawks. Considering that program has appeared in six Class 8A title games (including three titles) between 2003-2011, the Hawks aren't exactly chopped liver. Regardless, Hoerster's huddles are about a lot more than the final score.
Predictably, he consoled and praised the team with a proper perspective Saturday. "You guys had a fantastic season and you have so much to be proud of in terms of what you accomplished. Hold your heads high and learn from this game and this season. Carry it with you as you move on in life. Thank you for a fun and very special season."
Per tradition, the huddle culminated when the players drew closer and Hoerster bellowed, "It's a great day," and the players responded with a passionate final cry, "to be a Huskie."