OAK PARK — When Mount Carmel assistant football coach John Hoerster took over as coach at Oak Park-River Forest four years ago, he asked to meet with assistant wrestling coach Paul Collins.
Collins, who coached in the football program for nine years, was a longtime wrestling assistant and part of the Huskies’ team that won a state championship in 2009.
The wrestlers won another state title last spring and several members of that program, including three varsity starters, have become major contributors to the success of the football team.
“The wrestling program expects to win,” Hoerster said. “We want to take that kind of attitude in our football program.”
No. 10 Oak Park-River Forest (6-1, 4-1) bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 49-35 West Suburban Silver victory Friday night against Lyons (3-4, 1-3).
OPRF’s only two-way player, Kamal Bey, a linebacker and wide receiver, scored OPRF’s second TD of the game when he recovered Lloyd Yates’ fumble near the goal line in the second quarter.
Bey, a 5-7, 160-pound junior, joins left tackle Adam Lemke-Bell and defensive end Allen Stallings as the three football starters who won the state team wrestling title in Bloomington. Two other football starters, linebackers Ben Avis and Rolliann Sturkey, competed for the JV team, as did reserve linebacker Andrew Borgdorff.
Lemke-Bell did not play football as a freshman, but his wrestling coaches convinced him to try out as a sophomore. That decision paid off when he accepted a football scholarship to Northwestern before the season.
“There is a toughness with [wrestling] guys,” Borgdorff said. “You train for wrestling and stronger endurance. You have to be more mentally tough [to wrestle].”
Collins stepped down as an assistant football coach before this season when he was named the new varsity wrestling coach. His brother Donie Collins, Jim Messer, Joe Conway and Fred Arkin all coach football at the high school or in a youth programs, as well as wrestling at OPRF.
“It’s great watching these guys do so well in football,” Paul Collins said. “We always preach the importance of getting the most out of your experiences and they are doing that.”
Stallings said he spent much of his summer shuttling back and forth between the wrestling room and the stadium for football workouts.
“I had to gain a little bit of weight. I gained between 25 to 30 pounds from March to the beginning of football,” said Stallings, who will wrestle at 220 pounds this season.
Sturkey comes off the field only on offense. He is the team’s only sophomore and plays on special teams and defense. He returned a kickoff 35 yards to the OPRF 46 early in the third quarter to help set up Antonio Cannon’s 1-yard TD run.
“What I learned from wrestling transfers over to tackling [in football]. The form is the same,” Sturkey said. “I knew when I came out, I did not think I would start. I am having a good season so far. This was a good game to come back with after [losing to Glenwbard West].”
The wrestlers all are hoping to add a Class 8A football championship to their state wrestling medallions.
“That would be the greatest feeling in the world, especially for the seniors and how hard they work. They are having their best season for their senior year,” said Stallings, a junior.
- OPRF quarterback Yates scored on touchdown runs of 14 and 2 yards in the second quarter and threw another TD pass to Kejuan Ratcliff. Yates finished with 196 yards passing and 133 yards rushing on 23 carries. Running back Cannon (20 carries, 134 yards) scored three TDs on runs of 9, 1 and 66 yards.
- Miami, Ohio-bound senior Leonard Ross scored three touchdowns and rushed for 231 yards on 29 carries for Lyons. Ross’ third TD of 20 yards in the fourth quarter pulled Lyons to within 35-28, but OPRF scored on its next possession, capped by Cannon’s 66-yard TD run.
- Lyons quarterback Tom Fiedler threw only three passes in the first half and finished with 7 of 15 completions for 133 yards. He completed two passes to Jimmy Saracco for 84 yards before halftime. Fiedler (10 carries, 45 yards) also rushed for two touchdowns of 8 and 5 yards.