November 27th, 2018 12:00 PM
OPRF senor linebacker Cedric Cheatham (#1) levels a New Trier player during the Class 8A playoffs. Cheatham is the Wednesday Journal Player of the Year. (File photo)
Thanksgiving weekend marked the end of the 2018 Illinois high school football season. Congratulations to the state champion football teams from all eight classes in the IHSA.
Unfortunately, neither Fenwick nor Oak Park and River Forest won any of those titles. However, the Friars and Huskies produced their share of exciting moments.
Oak Park and River Forest High School head football coach John Hoerster suffered a major heart attack last summer, but the determination shown during his recovery inspired the Huskies to have their most successful season in 20 years.
OPRF clinched a share of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division with Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central. The conference title marked the first time since 1998 that OPRF has finished atop the league. The Huskies also defeated Glenbard West, a feat not done since 2007. Senior Henry Darrow kicked a 41-yard field goal in the closing seconds to lift OPRF past Glenbard West 10-7 in Glen Ellyn.
The Huskies finished the regular season with a 7-2 mark, with a pair of seven-point losses (24-17 to Waubonsie Valley in Week 1, 7-0 at Hinsdale Central in Week 3). In the Class 8A playoffs, OPRF opened at home with an impressive 34-16 win over New Trier. The following week, the Huskies traveled to Chicago's South Side to face top-seeded Brother Rice. Despite a tremendous all-around game from wide receiver/safety Trevon Brown and forcing three consecutive Brother Rice turnovers, OPRF lost 27-17.
After the game, Hoerster credited the Huskies' successful campaign to the team's dedicated senior class.
"I'm going to miss the hell out of them," Hoerster said. "It's an amazing group of young men. Going into the season, we had a lot of questions that needed to be answered. We didn't know how good we could be. But we knew we were going to have tremendous leadership from the senior class."
While OPRF will lose a lot of top contributors, a solid core returns next year including quarterbacks Jaden McGill and Toby Kunkel, running back Nazareth Bryant, wide receiver Erik Skala, offensive tackle Fabian Gonzalez, defensive end Naahlyee Bryant, and linebacker Daemyen Middlebrooks.
Let's take a closer look at Fenwick. Having lost almost all of the key contributors from the 2016 and 2017 state playoff teams to graduation - while also seeing budding star defensive lineman Jacob Kaminski transfer out of state, a rebuilding season was expected.
Yet, with quarterback Danny Cronin entering his second season as a starter, there was cause for optimism that Fenwick could once again make the playoffs. But the Friars opened the season with three consecutive losses to Kenwood, St. Ignatius, and Brother Rice. That start put the team in a hole they never recovered from with a 3-6 record. Notable wins included a dramatic comeback Homecoming victory over St. Laurence and another solid win over Marmion.
"Coming into the season, we knew we had a tough schedule. We actually found out we had the second toughest in the state," defensive back Timmy Carey said. "As a small team with not much experience, we had to play with what we have and do our best for the team. It was next man up. Facing so many different opponents and game plans, we just moved on week by week and tried to have some fun with it."
The Friars' fortunes appear better in 2019. With Cronin back for his third season behind center, along with other returners and reinforcements from a talented freshman team that went 7-2, head coach Gene Nudo should have enough talent to restore the Friars' winning ways. Fenwick will compete in a new conference consisting of both Chicago Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic schools.
ALL-WEDNESDAY JOURNAL TEAM
For the second straight year, I'm pleased to announce my All-Wednesday Journal football team comprised of the best players from OPRF and Fenwick.
My Player of the Year choice is OPRF linebacker Cedric Cheatham. While it's true fellow Huskies Izaiah Ruffin and Ashford Hollis received more notoriety and accolades earlier in the season, Cheatham turned out to be the heart and soul of the defense. He was most consistent player throughout 2018. He even contributed on offense, scoring key touchdowns out of the Huskies' jumbo package against Lyons Township and New Trier.
Here are the players selected for this year's team:
QB: Jaden McGill, SO, OPRF
RB: Nazareth Bryant, JR, OPRF
RB: Mitch Lopez, SR, Fenwick
WR: Trevon Brown, SR, OPRF
WR: Craig Shelton, SR, OPRF
WR: Marcus Wright, JR, Fenwick
OL: Fabian Gonzalez, JR, OPRF
OL: Sean Carpenter, JR, Fenwick
OL: Tom Cronin, SR, OPRF
OL: Max Forst, SR, Fenwick
OL: Luke Elwart, JR, OPRF
K: Henry Darrow, SR, OPRF
DL: Izaiah Ruffin, SR, OPRF
DL: Ashford Hollis, SR, OPRF
DL: Konrad Skowyra, SR, Fenwick
LB: Cedric Cheatham, SR, OPRF (Player of the Year)
LB: Jake Adams, SR, OPRF
LB: Tom Dvorak, JR, Fenwick
LB: Daemyen Middlebrooks, JR, OPRF
DB: Ethan Reinhardt, SR, OPRF
DB: Aidan Shea, SR, OPRF
DB: Machi Young, SR, OPRF
DB: Solomon Singleton, SR, Fenwick
P: Bryan Dowd, JR, Fenwick