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By Brad Spencer
John Hoerster hasn't been getting much sleep in the last few weeks, but it's not because OPRF's head football coach has been stressing about whether his team is ready for the 2012-13 season.
Hoerster and his wife, Margaret, welcomed a son, John III, into the world in mid-July. And Dad would sure like to have little John be a part of a successful high school football season sooner than later.
Following Hoerster's debut as head coach last season, a campaign that resulted in a 3-6 overall record and just one victory in the highly competitive West Suburban (Silver) Conference, the opportunity for progress has arrived. Last year's early season injuries to key players, including the starting quarterback, are a thing of the past. Running back Jakari Cammon, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last year, is back as the main threat, but Hoerster is quick to point out that the offense will look different from last season.
"With a player that good, we have to make sure he is going to get his touches," he said of Cammon, whose time in the 40 clocked in at 4.5 seconds during the offseason. "But one of the problems last year was that he was the center of attention. We need to diversify ourselves this year, throw the ball more, get the ball into other people's hands, and this will help open things up more for Jakari."
Hoerster has called upon newcomer Lloyd Yates to skipper the offense at the quarterback position. The 6-foot-2 sophomore moved up from the freshman to the junior varsity level last season when Jacob Lintvelt was called upon to replace the injured John Phelan (now graduated) on varsity. "We liked what he did last year at the junior varsity level and we liked what he did over the summer. It was a battle between Lloyd, Jacob and Dain (Mrozek), but Lloyd picked up things quickly."
That's not to say, Hoerster insisted, that Lintvelt and Mrozek won't see significant time on the field. Mrozek, a senior, has been getting reps at receiver, while Lintvelt will be ready to go "at a moment's notice" if Yates struggles early.
While the offensive line will be anchored by 6-2, 220-pound lineman Erik Oxnevad, the defense is expected to feature the bulk of Sedrick McDonald (5-11, 220) and Nile Sykes (6-2, 225). Sykes, only a junior who racked up 26 tackles last season, seven for a loss, has already drawn the interest of several Division I colleges, including Illinois and Purdue.
A player Hoerster is pleased to see back on the field is Tommy O'Dell, who suffered a broken leg before the start of last season. O'Dell has moved from starting free safety to linebacker, and will also see time on the offensive side of the ball at what Hoerster referred to as a "running back-receiver hybrid position."
Someone who won't be roaming the sidelines this season is Tim Hasso, a longtime coach in the OPRF football program who last season served as defensive coordinator. Tim Fischer, who followed Hoerster from Mt. Carmel and was a linebackers coach last season, takes over the defense. Virg Gerin, Fenwick's former offensive coordinator, has moved up the street to coach defensive backs and wide receivers, while Jay Kuchenbecker operates the offensive and defensive line. Fischer and Kuchenbecker played football with Hoerster at York High School.
As for the competition, the Huskies dropped Glenbrook North from its opener and added Fenger, a Chicago Public School that has made the playoffs the last few years. But the loaded West Suburban (Silver) Conference hasn't lost much. Glenbard West, a team that won 10 games last season, including six straight to take the conference title, is again a favorite. With Lyons Township's always strong program, Hinsdale Central's blossoming numbers and a much-improved Downers Grove North squad, the Huskies will have their hands full.
"If we stay healthy I think we have a chance at making the playoffs," said Hoerster. "This season we have more options offensively, and more depth defensively. We also have a really good attitude. Those things add up to a good formula for a good football team."