With five straight 3-6 seasons followed by last year's rough 2-7 mark, OPRF head football coach Jim Nudera wanted to pack up the 2005 team and get away. So over the summer he stationed a portion of his football camp up at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The team spent three days stretched out on five football fields executing drills. The Huskies literally practiced, studied, ate and slept football, all for the purpose of building team chemistry for what may be a slump-breaking season.
Since 1998, when the varsity team went 8-2, OPRF has been mired in mediocrity on the gridiron. This year's hope resides in 22 returning seniors, 21 of which have played in Nudera's program all four years.
Rick Foytik returns to the quarterback position, while Jeremy Potts, Willie Funches and D'Angelo Wisdom, who split time with the since graduated Jamar Johnson last season, will rotate rushing duties in the backfield.
Nudera said the focus won't be trying to run over opponents like it has been in the past for the team.
"We've finally got some speed on this team," he said. "So we're going to try and run around people."
Clearing the way for OPRF's sprinters are veterans Tyler Pride (center, 6-foot-2-inches, 225 pounds), Eric Olson (guard/tackle, 6-foot, 260), John McDermott (tight end, 6-2, 225) and Dan French (tackle, 6-3, 210). Newcomers to the trenches include David Pickard (6-4, 265) and Max Brooks (6-foot, 215).
Nudera isn't opposed to going to the air either. Foytik will have Jason Simmons, Cedric Rowland, Dave Studer and newcomer Xavier Holiday at his disposal.
The defense will need to clamp down this season. The Huskies gave up 288 points last year. Mark Ginski returns to the lineup after a serious knee injury three games into last season sidelined the linebacker. Another player returning from an injury-laden season is John Meacham, who will take up at defensive end. Pride (def. tackle), Wisdom (safety), Funchum (strong safety), McDermott (linebacker), Ben Johnson (corner), Brett Schiffman (linebacker), Josh Bixler (linebacker/fullback) and Potts will possibly play both sides of the ball, according to Nudera.
Others expected to see time on the defensive side of the line are Nick Loiacono and Nick Vombrack, both of which play safety.
Familiar foes Hinsdale Central and Downers Grove North are likely to stay atop the West Suburban (Silver) Conference this season. The Red Devils return eight starters who stood like walls on the line last year. The average height of three of the returning linemen is 6-3, while the combined weight exceeds 800 pounds. Hinsdale Central finished 11-1 overall last season and won the WSC with a perfect 6-0 record. Downers North finished second with a 5-1 mark and won the 8A State championship.
"We need to bring our level of intensity to its highest point, in order to compete with some of these teams [this season]," said Nudera, who enters his seventh season with a 17-37 coaching record. "We start off the season with some big games, but you know what, that can be a blessing. There's a sense of urgency to do well."
The Huskies kick-off the season at home against Larkin on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.