I was overseas on vacation last week. I certainly enjoyed myself as always, but I kept an eye on the Oak Park and River Forest High School football team to see how the Huskies fared in their Class 8A first-round playoff game against New Trier.
I was hoping that the Huskies would survive and advance so that I could see another OPRF football game this year. I was very pleased when I found out the Huskies prevailed 34-16 behind a big game from budding sophomore star quarterback Jaden McGill, who ran for three touchdowns and threw for another.
As a reporter, I’m supposed to report the facts and stay objective, which I do. But I’ve also been an Oak Park resident for several years, and this native South Sider has come to fall in love with this community. I have a special passion for high school football, and so it was disappointing for me as a fan to sit through several mediocre to poor seasons. I always knew OPRF was a sleeping giant that needed the right coach to wake it up and help realize its potential.
The hiring of John Hoerster in 2011 turned out to be the right choice for OPRF. He has guided the Huskies to a school-record seven consecutive state playoff appearances. Tate’s take is John was a great hire.
Yet if there’s one flaw in the program, it’s the Huskies’ glaring inability to move past the second round of the playoffs. That’s something OPRF hasn’t done since 1985 when they advanced to the 6A quarterfinals under the leadership of head coach Gary Olson and star linebacker Eric Kumerow.
This Saturday, OPRF has another opportunity to power the program to the next level fans have been waiting for and smash the status quo when it travels to top-seeded Brother Rice. On paper, it looks like the Huskies are in trouble. In fact, most experts predict the Crusaders will have an easy win.
But most of these so-called experts also picked Glenbard West to beat OPRF on October 13 as well. We all know what happened that day. OPRF pulled off a historic and thrilling 10-7 win on a date that will forever be remembered in Huskies’ lore as “Henry Darrow Day.”
In recent years, I have watched several OPRF talented teams get knocked out in the first or second round of the playoffs.
This year’s team just has a different vibe to it. These Huskies have an unwavering confidence and belief they can win any game. Moreover, while there may not be as many hyped players on this year’s squad compared to past years, there is a palpable sense of unity. Add in the fact the Huskies love playing for Hoerster – who serves as further inspiration given his major health scare over the summer – and you can see why this is a special group of young men. There’s also ample speed, athleticism, strength and depth on the roster if you’re looking for more assurance from a purely Xs and Os perspective.
I’ve been writing for several years about how important it is for OPRF fans to become the 12th Man for the team. That means being loud and boisterous at OPRF Stadium, especially on third down when the Huskies’ defense needs a big stop. The players get fueled by the noise the fans supply. OPRF fans must now bring the noise intensity on the road in spades this weekend.
Brother Rice has a student cheering section called the Crusader Crazies. They’re perpetually loud, supportive and energetic. This ubiquitous group always comes out to support Brother Rice athletics. Whether the sport is football, basketball, baseball or soccer, the maroon and orange clad Crazies love their teams. Legend has it the Crusader Crazies even crashed the IHSA Bass Fishing state tourney in a fan boat.
With a 35-3 win against Fenwick already under their belt this season, the Crusader Crazies will be out in full force Saturday night looking for a big postseason win and a sweep of Oak Park’s high school football teams.
How can OPRF deal with such a frenzied atmosphere? That’s where you – the fans – come into play. I’m issuing a challenge to OPRF students and fans. The Dog Pound needs to head out to 100th and Pulaski on the South Side in large numbers. The Huskies need your support. The same call of duty goes out to adult fans, whether or not you have a player on the team. The visiting bleachers at Tom Mitchell Field must be packed with Orange and Blue.
With your presence and vocal support, you can help OPRF football breakthrough and pull off the victory at Rice. The Huskies are talented enough to get it done; your support could get them over the top.
See you Saturday night at 6. Whether it’s your lungs, horns, clackers or cowbells, bring the noise and plenty of enthusiasm. The best way to offset the Crusader Crazies is with some Huskie Havoc.