With the loss of its top two running backs (Antonio Cannon, Jamarri Watson) and top two wide receivers (Cole Fields, Breshawn Wilkerson), the Oak Park and River Forest High School began this season with some questions offensively.
The emergence of new playmakers like Michael Houston, Terrance Roundy, Craig Shelton, Kohri Blair, Craig Shelton and Jared Scott has kept the Huskies on track to the tune of 40 points per game, and more importantly, a 4-0 start.
Blair and Shelton scored two touchdowns apiece in the Huskies’ 42-8 win against visiting Proviso West Friday, Sept. 16.
On its first possession, OPRF scored on senior quarterback Jeremy Hunt’s 1-yard keeper followed by a 2-point conversion to give the Huskies a 8-0 lead midway though the first quarter. The impressive drive was 14 plays for 83 yards.
With 3:26 left in the first quarter, Proviso West quarterback Deveon Bryant threw a pass behind the line of scrimmage which was a live ball. Blair, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior, alertly picked up the ball for a scoop and score from 22 yards out that extended the lead to 15-0. Blair added a second TD on a 16-yard pass from Hunt with 4:31 to go in the third quarter to make the score 29-0.
“Mainly, I play defense but whenever they call my number for offense, I’m ready to go,” Blair said. “We’re really fast and have a lot of playmakers. I feel like we are equivalent to least year’s team.”
With the rapid development of so many players, matching or exceeding last year’s 9-2 record seems plausible. Then again, the Huskies have made it a practice the past few seasons to simply focus on the opponent at hand.
“We need to stay humble and keep preparing for the next game,” Houston said. “It’s nice because everybody on our team can score.”
Shelton, only one of two sophomores on the varsity roster, has star potential. He caught a pair of TD passes for 9 and 24 yards in the second half to essentially put away the Panthers.
“I’m excited to be up here (on varsity) and hopefully I can help the team,” Shelton said. “Jeremy is such a great quarterback. He throws hard to I have to make sure I catch the ball or it could be a jammed finger.
“We just need to stick with the game plan and listen to all our coaches on the staff.”
Houston had a 7-yard touchdown run at 6:45 of the second quarter.
The addition of so many offensive threats that play with panache has been a pleasnt surprise for OPRF fans. OPRF also features veteran wide receivers in 6-6 Jared Scott, 6-4 Eddie Gorens and 6-1 Davion Talbert and an excellent offensive line to further complicate defensive schemes for opponents. The unit’s collective size and speed is formidable to say the least.
“You look good, you play good,” Shelton said with a smile. “Playing here in front of the Dog Pound (OPRF student section) and the success of the program helps us a lot.”
In the closing minutes of a running clock in the fourth quarter, Proviso West scored a touchdown on Bryant’s 2-yard run plus a successful 2-point conversion to close out the score at 42-8.
Defense containing opponents
While the Huskies have garnered a lot of attention offensively, their defense has been very good this season. In four games, OPRF is allowing 12 points per game.
Against Proviso West, Christopher Banks-Mitchell powered the pass rush with two sacks, while senior cornerback Keyon Blankenbaker had an interception.
Noah Coplan, Austin Maxwell, Tariq Thurman, Brenden Flowers, Wesley Cheatham, Sturkey and Blair also contributed on defense.
Thurman, a transfer from Proviso West, has fit in as smoothly on defense as some of the aforementioned offensive newcomers.
“When I first got here, I talked with (former OPRF linebacker) Jahmari (Moore) and he gave me a couple of tips before he left,” Thurman said. “We’re really flying to the ball well on defense and playing together.”
OPRF visits Downers Grove North for a 7:30 p.m. game on Friday, Sept. 23.