Blessed with a rich tradition of great players, outstanding teams and memorable games, the OPRF football program proudly calls Oak Park Stadium its home. On Saturday afternoon, the Huskies allowed a special exception of their home turf rights to the University of Illinois football players, who treated an estimated crowd of 2,500 fans to a spirited scrimmage.

Visiting the area for a third straight year to showcase its team in the Chicago Spring Game, Illinois initially contracted with a city high school; however, after that arrangement fell through, OPRF served as an attractive alternative.

“Illinois called us the first week of March to see if we were still available,” OPRF Athletic Director John Stelzer said. “We had to move one lacrosse game to make it work, but it worked out fine. We’re very happy that everything went very smoothly. It’s a great event for our community, football program, students and faculty, as well as a lot of U of I alumni.”

Sharing the same school colors and fight song, the alliance between OPRF and U of I also carries historical significance. From 1910-1913, coach Robert Zuppke led the Huskies to a pair of national championships and a 29-2 record before moving on to Champaign, where he guided the Illini to four national championships and seven Big Ten titles during his impressive 28-year tenure. Overall, OPRF football has compiled a 603-357 (37 ties) record and a .623 winning percentage during its 116-year existence.

“[OPRF] is where coach Zuppke did it,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Everything we have at the University of Illinois in football kind of came from him. It’s pretty neat.”

Pleasant weather and an appreciative blue and orange clad crowd fostered the Illini’s productive practice session.

During the two-hour session, the players executed drills, simulated game situations, and held a scrimmage. Notable performers on the day included quarterback Juice Williams (13-of-20, 172 yards, TD pass) and wide receiver Arrelious Been, who hauled in three catches for 40 yards and rushed six times for 25 yards.

“We’re fortunate to host the U of I football team,” said OPRF football coach Jim Nudera. “Last year when I attended a clinic at Illinois, coach Zook and I talked a little bit, and sure enough things worked out.”

Benn, a legitimate NFL prospect who hails from Washington D.C., appreciated the importance of the Illini’s annual trek to a prime recruiting area.

“This visit gives fans and recruits in the area to see what we are all about,” he said. “It’s a good trip for us, and I think Oak Park has a pretty nice high school field.”

Former Lyons Township quarterback Ed Viliunas certainly enjoyed his return trip to the familiar terrain of Oak Park Stadium.

“It’s really cool to be back close to my hometown [LaGrange Park],” Viliunas said. “When we played Oak Park in high school, it was always a big game, so it’s fun to be back here.”

OPRF fans seemed happy to root on the Illini.

“I play on the football team, so this is a big deal that Illinois came here,” said OPRF junior Marek Zurowski. “It’s cool to see a college team practice and how intense it is compared to high school football.”

Added Zurowski’s classmate Emily Tucker: “It’s really cool that [Illinois] came here, but I wish they actually played more of a real game.”

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...