OPRF & Fenwick football: In it, to win it

Huskies, Friars should contend in their respective football conference

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Melvin Tate

Contributing Reporter

Our annual high school football season preview issue featuring Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick will be published on Aug. 28 (two days before the regular season starts). However, for diehards who can't wait till opening kickoff to satiate their thirst for any kind of football info, here's an advanced scouting report about the Huskies and Friars and how they could fare this season.

WEST SUBURBAN SILVER

OUTLOOK: Throughout this decade, Glenbard West has been pegged as the favorite each season to win the West Suburban Silver – one of the best leagues in the Chicago area. But this year, the Hilltoppers have to replace a lot of key contributors, so the conference race for the title appears wide open this season.

OPRF had a breakthrough season in 2018, defeating Glenbard West for the first time since 2007 and claiming a share of the conference title (along with the Hitters and Hinsdale Central; it marked the Huskies' first WSS title since 1998). While OPRF also saw heavy graduation losses, the team returns enough veterans at key positions to have a successful campaign. Junior quarterback Jaden McGill, senior running back Nazareth Bryant and senior linebacker Daemyen Middlebrooks (among others) return, ensuring OPRF will factor into the conference race this fall. If the Huskies are able to successfully reload defensively (especially on the line) under veteran defensive coordinator Tim Fischer, they will be a team no one wants to face in October and November. 

Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central also will be contenders. Despite a litany of new faces, it's unwise to downplay the perennially-competitive Hilltoppers' chances. Head coach Chad Hetlet will rely on an old-school but still effective approach, featuring a stable of solid running backs and a physical, hard-hitting defense led by senior linebacker Greyson Metz.

 After surviving a tumultuous offseason of uncertainty due to a budget battle within District 86 (which was resolved with no extracurricular program cuts due to voters passing a referendum), Hinsdale Central should have another good season since plenty of experienced players return on both sides of the ball. Offensive tackle Kiran Amegadjie (Yale commit), defensive back Owen Goss (Colgate recruit) and wide receiver Braden Contreas headline a strong senior class.

Elsewhere in the conference, former Hinsdale Central head coach Dan Hartman is now in charge of Lyons Township. Look for the Lions to rebound from an uncharacteristically poor season under his watch. Downers Grove North has one of the league's most underrated players in quarterback Drew Cassens, while York looks to continue its improved play under second-year head coach Mike Fitzgerald. Two-way lineman Josh Mathiasen, who is receiving plenty of recruiting attention, and wide receiver Owen Pechous lead the Dukes.

TOP 5 PLAYERS: Jaden McGill, QB, JR, OPRF; Greyson Metz, LB, SR, Glenbard West; Drew Cassens, QB, SR, Downers Grove North; Kiran Amegadjie, OL, SR, Hinsdale Central; Josh Mathiasen, OL/DL, SR, York.

TOP 5 GAMES: Maine South at Glenbard West, Aug. 31: The Hilltoppers get a stern test to start the season in facing the Hawks, who are once again expected to be a state title contender. Nevertheless, a game at picturesque Duchon Field is always a sight to behold. 

- Willowbrook at OPRF, Sept. 6: The Huskies have a strong West Suburban crossover opponent for their home opener in the Warriors. Led by quarterback Sam Tumilty, Willowbrook has reached the IHSA state quarterfinals for three consecutive seasons. 

- Hinsdale Central at OPRF, Sept. 20: The winner will have an early advantage in the West Suburban Silver title race. 

- Hinsdale Central at Glenbard West, Oct. 19: This is a big rivalry game with plenty of implications not only for the conference but also for the state playoffs. 

- Glenbard West at OPRF, Oct. 25: It's been said that a rivalry really isn't one until one team ends a losing streak to the other. The Huskies' 10-7 win at Glenbard West last fall marked a breakthrough for John Hoerster's program after enduring several highly-competitive losses to the Hilltoppers. The rivalry moves to Week 9 this season; Oak Park Stadium will be electric with the conference championship possibly at stake

DID YOU KNOW: Hoerster participated in an Adventure Race this summer in Wisconsin. It's a 50-mile race that consists of running, mountain biking and kayak riding that tests one's endurance and stamina. It took Hoerster between 11-12 hours to complete. 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: OPRF, Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central, Downers Grove North, York, Lyons Township, Proviso West. 

 

CCL/ESCC WHITE

OUTLOOK: In 2018, the Chicago Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic Conference decided to merge their football teams into one super conference with six divisions. Fenwick, Joliet Catholic, Marmion Academy and St. Ignatius make up the CCL/ESCC White Division.

Joliet Catholic claimed its 14th state championship last fall (more than any other school in Illinois high school football history). Although The Hilltoppers graduated plenty of talent from that squad, there are enough quality players returning to challenge for the White title, including lineman Conor Kovas and a 3-star running back prospect Kenyetta Williams, who missed last season due to injury. 

Fenwick appears to be JCA's top challenger. The Friars are loaded with promising players, notably sophomores like quarterback Kaden Cobb, wide receiver Eian Pugh, fullback/defensive tackle Kevin Frazier and center Jimmy Liston. Additionally, the solid veteran core of two-way tackle Sean Carpenter, defensive tackle Tom Dvorak and kicker/punter Bryan Dowd (all three earned all-conference recognition in 2018) is intent on reversing the Friars' fortunes after an uncharacteristic 3-6 mark last fall. Linebackers Danny Farnan and Bryce Legan, along with cornerbacks Solomon Singleton (3-year varsity starter) and Mark Thomas, provide Fenwick a solid defensive foundation to build around.

Elsewhere in the CCL/ESCC White, Marmion Academy and St. Ignatius look to rebuild offensively. St. Ignatius' triple-option offense, which always presents a challenge for opponents, replaces nine starters this season. Led by linebackers Declan Callahan and Elijah Williams, the defense will need to carry the Wolfpack in the season's early going. Meanwhile, linebackers Major Haas (60 tackles, 16 TFL) is one of just five returning starters for Marmion, which is replacing 10 starters on offense this fall.

TOP 5 PLAYERS: Conor Kovas, OL/DL, SR, Joliet Catholic; Kenyetta Williams, RB, SR, Joliet Catholic; Sean Carpenter, OL/DL, SR, Fenwick; Bryan Dowd, K/P, SR, Fenwick; Major Haas, LB, SR, Marmion. 

TOP 5 GAMES: Joliet Catholic at St. Rita, Aug. 30: The Hilltoppers begin defense of their Class 5A title with two stiff challenges, the first having to go to Chicago's South Side to meet a fellow CCL/ESCC power in the Mustangs. 

IC Prep at Joliet Catholic, Sept. 6: It doesn't get any easier for the Hilltoppers in Week 2. They'll host Immaculate Conception, which defeated them handily last year in an upset. To add further intrigue, former Fenwick quarterback Danny Cronin could be under center for the Knights.

Fenwick at Nazareth Academy, Sept. 13: The Friars drew the defending Class 7A champion Roadrunners for one of their CCL/ESCC crossover games. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy (Michigan commit) leads a stacked team that will serve as a good barometer of where Fenwick is at the time.

Fenwick at Joliet Catholic, Sept. 20: The Friars and Hilltoppers could decide the division winner with this matchup. 

Fenwick at St. Ignatius, Oct. 25: This Week 9 game will have major implications on the IHSA playoff field. The winner may likely need to win in order to secure a spot.

DID YOU KNOW: Marmion Academy head coach Dan Thorpe is entering his 38th season coaching, with the last 32 being as a head coach. Thorpe guided the Cadets to a Class 6A runner-up finish in 2010.

QUOTABLE: "I think it's going to be a great league. We all share the same values, and it's going to be exciting." – Fenwick coach Gene Nudo on the CCL/ESCC football merger.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: Joliet Catholic, Fenwick, St. Ignatius, Marmion 

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