Cue the sigh of relief, for there’s finally a lighted stadium in Oak Park to play high school football, which makes this season’s Huskies all the more in the spotlight as they try to gain some headway in a difficult conference.

The team is just a year removed from a dismal 1-5 West Suburban (Silver) Conference record and a 3-6 overall mark, but the Silver Division was stocked last year with the likes of Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central, the latter finishing second in the Class 8A State Finals. With the return of quarterback John Whitelaw, the Red Devils look to be the favorite ¡ª with Glenbard West a close second ¡ª to take the title. Last season, it was Glenbard West that went undefeated in the Silver.

But OPRF head coach Jim Nudera, now in his 11th year as head coach at the school, says his young team has potential to cause some havoc up and down the line.

“We have a good returning group back mixed with a lot of talented juniors,” he said. “It will take some doing, but I foresee good things from this group. It’s just a matter of eliminating mistakes and getting down to playing fundamental football.”

Nudera returns much of his offensive line from last season in guard Brad Oxnevad (6-foot-4, 240 pounds), tackle Ben Carbery (6-5, 245) and tackle Rich Ammons (6-3, 240). Wide receiver Darnell Lee (5-11, 160) rounds out those back on the offensive side of the ball, excluding Dorion Grant, who played defense last year but will now take on tailback duties alongside newcomer Tony Stapleton (5-11, 195).

“The best way to describe the two running backs is to say Tony has football speed and Dorion has track speed,” said Nudera.

Jack Rogalla (6-0, 180) takes over at quarterback for the Huskies. Rogalla played sparingly as a junior behind Eliot Davidson last season.

“Jack brings a lot of leadership to this squad,” said Nudera. “He has a strong arm and his running ability has much improved.”

The bulk of the returners can be found on defense, where linebackers Caleb Conway (5-9, 185) and Brock Friesen (6-0, 180) again head up an experienced crew. Also back is strong safety Cory Ousley (6-foot, 175), linemen Adarious Booth (5-7, 200) and Laquan Hightower (5-7, 215), defensive end Kyle French (6-1, 210) and cornerbacks Ricky Fleming (6-0, 175) and Amir Arif (5-10 150), who was out much of last season with an illness.

Others expected to make an impact this season include center Owen Budorick (6-1, 220), guard Isaac Chadri (6-0, 230), receiver Eric Starks (5-8, 170), tight end Dustin Walters (5-11, 190) and California transfer student Gabe Woullard (6-3, 205), who will play tight end and defensive end.

Free safety Devin Banks (5-9, 155), linebacker Conor Harmon (5-10, 180), linebacker Joe Donlan (6-1, 205) and cornerbacks Lavaris Jackson (5-9, 170) and Kevin Studer (5-11, 150) are likely to be filling in the open spots on defense.

“The biggest thing we have to overcome is making poor decisions on the field,” said Nudera. “If we can play smart football I do believe we could be in the hunt this season. It comes down to calm, poised and good fundamental football.”

The Huskies open the season hosting Glenbard North this Saturday (Aug. 29, 1:30 p.m.). On Sept. 11, they’ll begin conference play at Elmhurst College against York, where Nudera’s son, Jim Jr., is a reserve quarterback and his daughter, Brailey, is a cheerleader.

“That will certainly make for an interesting evening,” said Nudera about the family affair.

The football team’s first game under the new lights at Oak Park Stadium will be Sept. 18 against Glenbard West (7:30 p.m.).

Up Close

Key returners: Darnell Lee, Caleb Conway Laquan Hightower

2008 record (finish):

1-5, WSC; 3-6 overall

Tidbit:

Two highly ranked teams in Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central will once again make for a tough conference schedule.

Coach’s quote:

“We need to play smart football, that’s all there is to it.”

2009 Schedule
Aug. 29, 1:30 p.m. vs. Glenbard North
Sept. 5, 1:30 p.m. vs. Hinsdale South
Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m. at *York
Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m. vs. *Glenbard West
Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m. at *Lyons Township (south campus)
Oct. 3, 1:30 p.m. vs. *Hinsdale Central (Homecoming)
Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. at Morton West
Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m. at *Proviso West
Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. vs. *Downers Grove North

*Denotes conference game.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...