After narrowly missing out on the state playoffs in 2019 and 2021 due to a Week 9 loss in each year, the Oak Park and River Forest High School football team is hungry for a postseason return.
OPRF has five returning starters on offense and seven on defense. One of those returning offensive starters is senior Jack Gooch, who is entering his third season as the varsity starter. In 2021, he threw for 1,674 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“My sophomore year, the game came fast,” said Gooch. “But everything’s slowed down and I’ve gained more confidence. I’ve got guys I’ve been playing with since eighth grade with me, and we’ve got that connection.”
Junior Bobby Haagenson is Gooch’s backup. He had a terrific outing at the team’s Aug. 19 scrimmage.
“Bobby did a great job tonight,” said head coach John Hoerster. “Sometimes timing is everything. Bobby just happens to be behind one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever had.”
But outside of the quarterbacks, there are plenty of holes within the OPRF skill position corps. E.J. Locke, the Huskies’ leading wide receiver from last season, is now at Valparaiso University, while the top three running backs — Anthony Brown, Demetrius Dortch (Roosevelt University), and Kelby Gray (University of South Dakota) — have also moved on.
Senior Ryan Martin (26 receptions, 374 yards, 5 TD) is OPRF’s top returning receiver, while senior Cameron Crape looks to make an impact. At running back, junior Lemer Burnett, junior Sam Gray and seniors Amaurie Carter and Eric Evans are vying for reps.
“They all have different skill sets, and we’re going to need them all,” Hoerster said.
However, the linemen on both sides of the ball are the team’s strength.
“We’re coming well together. We’ve got some pieces to work with,” said lineman Cole Robertson, a four-year varsity starter who plays both ways.
“The most important thing in football is the guys up front,” Hoerster added. “If those guys are successful, you’ve got a really good shot of being all right.”
Junior Kaden Garland – who placed third at the IHSA Class 3A state track and field meet in the shot put and fifth in the discus – and seniors Joey Daschbach and Kole Sneed are other key returning linemen. Evans and Sam Gray return at linebacker, and there’s experience in the secondary with juniors Jacob Bickhem and Khalil Nichols, along with senior Timmy Spillane, Crape and Martin.
The Huskies also have a pair of reliable kickers in seniors Gavin Johnson and Nolan Vitale. Last year, Johnson, who kicks left-footed, booted a game-winning field goal against Downers Grove North.
OPRF opens the season Aug. 27 against Fenwick at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, and four of the Huskies’ first five games will be played away from home. OPRF’s first home game comes Week 4 when it welcomes Lyons Township on Sept. 16.
August 27 – vs. Fenwick (SeatGeek Stadium)
September 2 – at Hinsdale South
September 10 – at Glenbard West
September 16 – LYONS TOWNSHIP
September 23 – at Hinsdale Central
September 30 – MORTON
October 7 – PROVISO WEST
October 14 – at Downers Grove North
October 21 – YORK
(home games in CAPS)