Golden Era of Football

Huskies and Friars collective success make Oak Park football worth watching

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Melvin Tate

Contributing Reporter

One of my favorite times of the year is here. The start of the high school football season! We are blessed to have two strong high school football teams to cheer for in Oak Park. Since John Hoerster took over the Oak Park and River Forest program in 2011, the Huskies are 42-20. Fenwick coach Gene Nudo claims a 39-20 record since 2012.

Despite some brutal postseason losses, the Friars have also performed admirably in the Class 7A playoffs with a state semifinals appearance in 2016 and state quarterfinals showing in 2014.

Whether it has been Lloyd Yates, Adam Lemke-Bell, Simmie Cobbs, Jeremy Hunt, and Jared Scott at OPRF or Aaron Garland, Chris Hawthorne, Jack Dittmer, Conner Lillig, and Jacob Keller at Fenwick, both teams have produced likable, exciting players who have helped increase the popularity of football in our area.

Now, it's time for a new chapter of football with the season kicking off this weekend.

Let's start with OPRF.

Did you know that the Huskies have recorded 653 wins in school history? That places them in a tie for 11th in Illinois high school history. There have been some legendary coaches on the sidelines like Bob Zuppke (yes, the man who would coach Red Grange at Illinois), Glenn Holmes, Ed Zembal and Gary Olson.

Entering his seventh season at OPRF, Hoerster has restored the Huskies' winning tradition with a school-record five consecutive state playoff appearances.

This year will be a bit of a challenge as there are plenty of new faces making their varsity debuts, especially on defense where only one starter returns. Led by running backs Michael Houston and Terrance Roundy and wide receiver Craig Shelton, the offense will have to carry the team at the start.

There will be some growing pains. A tough early schedule featuring games at Simeon and then hosting defending West Suburban Silver champ Hinsdale Central won't be easy. However, if the young Huskies can survive their early gauntlet of games and gradually improve, a sixth straight playoff berth is plausible.

At Fenwick, no one will soon forget the "Travesty at Triton" (18-17 loss against Plainfield North in Class 7A state semifinals) that unfairly ended a magical 2016 run for the Friars.

However, several talented players return, which makes another deep playoff run quite possible.

Twins Lorente and Lorenzano Blakeney, super sophomore Jacob Kaminski and Jason Ivery lead a defense that should be the strength of the team.

Wide receiver/tight end Michael O'Laughlin and offensive tackle Austin Glazier are two premier players, but Nudo needs to identify starters for Keller and Lillig (now playing college football at Northern Iowa and Illinois, respectively).

George Lagios and Dan Cronin are battling for the quarterback job, while Ivery and Joe Rafferty will see playing time at running back.

After a perusal of the IHSA record books, I found that OPRF and Fenwick haven' been good in football at the same time since the mid-to-late 1940s.

Welcome to the Golden Era of high school football in Oak Park! Make sure you get out and support the Huskies at Oak Park Stadium and Friars at Triton College. Cheering for OPRF and Fenwick at road games would help, too.

In closing, and with all due respect to the crosstown rivalry, it's time to Friar Up because it's a Great Day to be a Huskie.



Reader Comments

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Marty Bracco from Oak Park  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 4:04 PM

In 1969, the Sun-Times did indeed crown OPRF with it's # 1 ranking, but the Tribune gave it's #1 rank overwhelmingly to Loyola Academy. In those days, prior to the Chicago Catholic League joining the IHSA, the Sun-Times didn't include CCL teams in their rankings. Had those teams played that year, Loyola would have beaten OPRF handily, as good as OPRF was. CCL football was much better than IHSA schools in those days, due to recruiting, spring practices, and a longer practice season.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 3:48 PM

That 1969 championship (when there was no real mechanism for determining a champion) probably had a lot to do with being a big school in a big conference. Who knows if they would have actually beaten an upstart from the outer burbs?

Stephen Gordon from river forest  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 3:14 PM

Oh, and I still hate the light in the football stadium. They are ugly and not bright at all. And we are not in Texas!

Stephen Gordon from River Forest  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 3:13 PM

High School Football is watered down in IL. Eight classes? really? 256 teams make the playoffs? Really?

Stephen Gordon from River Forest  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 9:42 AM

Errol, Zembal is included because of the team in 1969, which was considered the state champions in football as crowned by the Chicago Sun Times newspaper. It was the last time OPRF won a state title in football as i do not believe the IHSA had been created yet to actually crown a state champ in football. Zembal is also noted for developing the 1983 grad Eric Kumerow who played at Ohio State and then had cups of coffee with both Miami and the Bears. Zembal was also a pretty good track coach too I believe.

Melvin Tate  

Posted: August 22nd, 2017 2:49 PM

Errol, I appreciate your comment on Coach Zembal. The reason I included him in my list is that he was the coach of the 1969 Huskies, which is OPRF's last unbeaten team. I figured that should count for something, especially considering the Huskies were considered the unofficial state champion that season.

Errol Penfield from Ely, NV  

Posted: August 22nd, 2017 2:17 PM

A funny/curious list of "legendary" Coaches at OPRF. Ed Zembal was a marginal Coaching talent at best. That era of Husky Football was entirely predictable and slow on offense, and very few kids were recruited because of it.

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