Now the real fun begins. Five games in, five wins in the books. The Oak Park and River Forest High School football team (5-0, 3-0 West Suburban Conference Silver Division) opens a critical three-game conference stretch starting Saturday, Oct. 4 at Glenbard West, followed by a pair of potentially tricky matchups against Lyons Township and at Hinsdale Central. Check out this week’s Huskies Notebook as we eagerly count down to Saturday’s “Game of the Year” against Glenbard West.
Unit grades after five games:
Offense (A): There’s no doubt that this unit is loaded with players capable of scoring from virtually anywhere on the field. The Huskies are the Golden State Warriors of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division. They run, score, play up-tempo and have fun doing it. But amid all the style and sizzle, the OPRF offense flourishes because it has a bunch of intelligent, tough and versatile players.
Without question, the Huskies have established arguably the best running game in the conference (Glenbard West is the other contender for that distinction); however, the team’s ability to “take what the defense gives them” has made the offense move, and at times appear unstoppable. For example, Downers Grove North made a concerted effort to contain OPRF on the ground in Week 4. So what do the Huskies do? Quarterback Lloyd Yates completes 7 of 10 passes for 137 yards with long touchdown tosses to Ke’Juan Ratcliff and Dallis Flowers. It’s truly a pick your poison attack.
“Our team is really exciting because we have so many guys who can make plays,” OPRF wide receiver/linebacker Kamal Bey said. “We’re stacked. I love the fact I can take a breather and the next guy in is as good as me.”
Head coach John Hoerster agrees with his budding star Bey, one of several playmakers on both sides of the ball.
“What I love about this team is we have unselfish players,” Hoerster said. “Take a guy like [running back] Antonio Cannon. He could be a 2,000-yard running back. He’s that talented, but he understands for us to succeed as a team, everybody has to sacrifice. Lloyd [Yates] is similar at the quarterback position as well. These guys are selfless leaders who are most concerned about playing well and winning as a team.”
The most underrated aspect of the offense, as might be the case with many teams, is the offensive line. The Huskies’ offensive front has performed magnificently this season, providing both time and holes for Yates along with the other playmakers on the unit. Left tackle Adam Lemke-Bell, left guard Nick Saleh, center Riley State, right guards Malcolm Stolarski and promising sophomore Jacob Hale and right tackle Phil Berton comprise an outstanding line. Center Jay Heininger, who broke his arm in practice, is also expected back soon to provide even more depth as the Huskies gear up for the postseason.
On occasion, OPRF had had lulls during games and committed some silly penalties on offense. But I’m being nitpicky. Numbers don’t lie: the Huskies are 5-0 and averaging 43 points.
Defense (B+): Through no fault of their own, the Huskies’ defense hasn’t truly been tested other than their road opener at Lincoln-Way East. They’ll certainly face another major challenge on Saturday at Glenbard West, which like OPRF, also possesses a prolific, versatile offense.
Over the past three games, OPRF has held conference opponents Proviso West, Downers Grove North and York to a combined 24 points. So within conference play so far, the unit is functioning at a high level.
The defensive talent is even more impressive than the numbers. On the defensive line, defensive ends Allen Stallings and Jelani Onigbinde form a special one-two pass rushing punch. While the Huskies have only five sacks on the year, these two founding members of the “Oak Park Sack Exchange” are constantly wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield. Junior nose tackle James Cousin has really upped his game in recent weeks as well, so the line appears ready for the stretch run.
The linebacking corps and secondary have also been playing at a high level. Linebacker Marty McAndrews, Sam Francis and safety Nathan Godwin provide leadership and toughness, while linebackers Rolliann Sturkey and Kamal Bey along with corners Shawn Woods and Flowers are all ballhawks with speed. Junior linebacker Jahmari Moore is another talented player who looks like the heir apparent to assume McAndrews’ role next season.
As much as we have written about the team’s speed on offense, there defense is every bit as fast. On both sides of the ball, OPRF has the ability to shrink the field due to their players’ ability to run sideline to sideline. This team turns the corner up field on both sides of the ball incredibly well. It’s really a treat to watch. Opposing running backs look like their running in quicksand.
When all is said and done, this defense has A ability. Containing Glenbard West, Lyons Township and Hinsdale Central over the next three weeks are prime opportunities to prove it.
Special Teams (A): Flowers and Bey have both shown a consistent ability to return kickoffs and punts for significant yardage. They are fast, elusive and read blocks well. Evan Bell made several special teams plays against York. Finally, senior kicker Sebastian Medala has been steady. While he’s 0-for-2 in field goal attempts (both beyond 30 yards), Medala has converted 29 of 30 PATs and consistently produced deep kickoffs. Even senior long snapper Andrew Borgdorff has been firing darts back to Yates when he’s punted. Like any team, OPRF has committed some penalties they would like back. Hoerster cited the unit’s play against York as its season-best.
Coaching (A ): Hoerster has created an exciting, successful culture around the program. With 14 wins over the past 16 games, the confluence of belief, hard work, talent and vision within the program is creating one heckuva fun team to watch.
It will be interesting to see how Hoerster and the Huskies handle Saturday’s showdown against Glenbard West. Don’t be misled by the natural beauty of the woods and Lake Ellyn surrouding Duchon Field. It’s a pressure cooker and only LT has come away with a win in recent years. Win or lose against the Hilltoppers, much will be learned from the experience and only help the Huskies’ development in the long run.
The Huskies want a piece of the Hilltoppers and vice versa. When asked which team OPRF gets most fired up to play, Moore replied, “Glenbard West, no question about it.”
Bey display takes your breath away: Just how good is 5-7, 160-pound junior wide receiver/linebacker/special teams ace Kamal Bey? The answer: really good, and with the tantalizing possibility his best is yet to come. In the past two wins over Downers Grove North and York, Bey has looked like arguably the highest impact and certainly most versatile player on the OPRF squad. That’s quite a statement considering the team also has guys like Yates, Antonio Cannon, Flowers, Ratcliff and Godwin. Yates, Cannon, Godwin, McAndrews and Stallings could all be the Huskies’ MVP at season’s end. Then again, so could Bey especially based on his inspired play the past two weeks.
Against Downers Grove North, Bey changed the complexion of the game when he scooped up a fumble for a long touchdown return. He added a couple of sensational punt returns against York and was simply all over the field in all three phases of the game.
“He is a special, special athlete,” Hoerster said. “I’d love to say it was great coaching, but he’s a special athlete. He can do so much and when that ball was on the ground, no coach was surprised because he just makes freak plays like that in practice all week.”
On the season, Bey has made 17.5 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, had four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He’s also rushed five times for 127 yards (25.4 yards per carry) and caught five passes for 64 yards. On special teams, Bey has returned six punts for 68 yards. In his signature play of the season, he returned a fumble 86 yards for a score against Downers North.
And don’t forget, he’s also the reigning wrestling state champion at 160 pounds.
Get well soon, Cole: I briefly visited with OPRF wide receiver Cole Fields in the waning seconds of the Huskies’ win over York. Fields, a transfer student from Mundelein High School, broke and fractured his tibia (leg injury) and also tore some ligaments (ankle injury) during the Huskies’ 35-13 win over Proviso West on Sep. 12. Recovery time is approximately four months.
“I’m already thinking about next year,” said Fields, a junior. “I’ve been working out a bit, doing some upper body stuff. It was tough when I first came here [to OPRF] because I didn’t know anybody, but I’m really starting to like it now. The academic adjustment has gone well and I had just had to earn my spot on the team.”
In two games this season, Fields has three catches for 79 yards and a touchdown catch against Lincoln-Way East. If healthy, he’s a potential/probable starter at wideout next year.
OPRF band gets lost in the Bermuda Triangle: Fresh off their award-winning performance at the Maple Leaf Classic Marching Band competition in Geneseo, IL., the OPRF marching band, remained on a roll with an inspired performance at halftime of the OPRF-York game. The band performed, “Into the Bermuda Triangle,” in three movements.
Kudos to director of bands Anthony D. Svejda and the award-winning Huskies!
Welcome back: OPRF celebrated Homecoming against Proviso West. Off all the fans, alumni, students and parents at Oak Park Stadium, it was particularly cool to see former OPRF players like Andre Lee, Emonte Logan and Xavier Rowe at the game. All three, who were key members of last year’s 9-2 team, joined in the post-game huddle with the victors.
“Andre, Emonte and Jamal Baggett were football players who moved up to the varsity as sophomores during my first season at OPRF,” Hoerster said. “Because of this, they have become de-facto ambassadors for the ‘Hoerster era.’ I knew this was the group that would have to buy in to move the program forward.”
I, I believe, I believe that, I believe that we will beat the traffic back to Elmhurst: In one of the more entertaining/bizarre moments of the OPRF-York game last week, the York student cheering section (which consisted of about 100 students all clad in white) with their beloved Dukes trailing 28-0 cheered at halftime that recently en vogue chant, “I believe that we will win (each word uttered separately at an increasingly rising decibel level before breaking out as a complete, rhythmic phrase). The chant became popular during the World Cup. After a spirited rendition of the cheer at halftime, the “Yorkies” all bolted out of Oak Park Stadium never to return. The Huskies have been so good to date that they’re even breaking the opposing team’s fan base.
Extra! Extra! read all about it, Huskie Huddle is all the rage: I would like to thank the community for the immense support given to Huskie Huddle. I’ve always believed that good material practically write itself, and it’s evident midway through the season, the OPRF football program is proving me right. Thanks to the players for lighting up the field with so many great plays.
Whether it’s been players, coaches, alumni, parents or fans of OPRF football, compliments and comments have been rolling in every week. This past week, we were delighted to find a particularly special thank you from the following (totally unexpected) reader of Huskie Huddle:
“Marty great article about the upcoming game! We have nothing but respect for the OPRF football program and Coach Hoerster. It’s refreshing to read articles that celebrate the good things that young adults are doing.” –Chad Hetlet, Glenbard West football coach
Game of the Year, reminder: So again as a final reminder, this Saturday, Oct. 4 in Glen Ellyn at 1:30 p.m. OPRF takes on Glenbard West with first place in the conference on the line. Last year, the Hitters defeated the Huskies 20-14 at Oak Park Stadium. Make sure you come out to the game Saturday and help the Huskies hopefully return the favor!