With his first season as OPRF’s head football coach now in the books, we caught up with John Hoerster last week and asked him some questions about his debut and the future of the program.
While his team’s final record this season — 1-5 in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference and 3-6 overall — certainly reflects the similar struggles of past years, Hoerster was quick to point out how the Huskies were plagued by injuries to key players, including at quarterback. The first-year head coach was impressed with the effort his team put forth in a league stocked with bigger and stronger teams as well as how quickly they adapted to their new coach and new system.
With five teams in the Silver Division earning playoff births this season, the competition isn’t likely to ease up anytime soon. Hoerster said he’s aware of the level of play, and insisted improvements by the start of next season are a must from both coaches and players.
He’s likely to again center things around star running back Jakari Cammon, who, as a junior this season, rushed for 1,440 yards, gaining more than 100 yards in every game but the season finale loss to Proviso West.
What’s your overall view of how your first season as head coach went?
We fought through a lot of adversity with some early and significant injuries to some of our key players. Losing Tommy O’Dell (starting safety, starting receiver and backup quarterback), John Phelan (starting quarterback) and Matt McCormack (starting middle linebacker and starting kicker), three of our captains, was a challenge that we fought throughout the season to overcome.
However, the players and the coaches never made excuses or felt sorry for themselves and players stepped up and fought hard against some very challenging opponents. We battled in some close games against some playoff bound teams and really solidified a nice foundation, with some nice young talent, which should carry over well into the off-season.
I think the overall attitude of this team was tremendously positive and resilient, and I am excited to see how some of the younger kids develop in the future.
What do you and your staff hope to do in the off-season to improve the program next year?
We need to make improvements all across the board, players and coaches. The athletes need to get bigger, faster and stronger in the weight room; we need to develop and nurture leadership; and we need to continue to build the team chemistry that all great programs possess … I think we are moving in the right direction and I’m excited to get started on the 2012 season.
Do you think the team would have finished better if you hadn’t had key players out with injuries?
We lost three of our four captains, our No. 1 and our No. 2 quarterback, a two-way starter and our leader in tackles. But most significantly, these are three great kids with tremendous passion and character … true leaders. I can’t say for sure, but I think they could have helped us.
Would we have won more games? I have no idea. But they definitely would have helped the team compete.
Will there be a push to recruit more OPRF students to come out for football next year?
You can never have too much positive participation. We will welcome anyone who is ready, willing and able to work hard, be coachable and dedicate themselves to becoming a better team member and a better football player.
How did the sophomore team finish this season?
They were 5-4 and were without six of their best players. The thing that impressed me the most, however, is that the number of sophomores who ended the season was nearly identical to the number that started the season; there was nearly no attrition. This in itself is a positive because it means the kids had a positive experience and were enjoying the game.
The sophomore coaches did a tremendous job and we on the varsity are looking forward to continuing this development.
Any additional thoughts on the season in general?
First of all, the senior class proved to be a tremendously resilient group, who worked unbelievably hard to succeed under a new coach with a new system. Transition years are never easy, but the seniors did a great job of leading the way, buying in, and creating the groundwork for our underclassmen to follow. I wish them the best and will miss coaching them.
Also, I think Jakari Cammon proved himself to be one of the top running backs in the state, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards, even when every defensive coordinator in our league knew who was going to be getting the ball. I am excited to watch him play basketball this winter.