Preseason No. 20 - Oak Park-River Forest

No. 20 Oak Park

Last season: 5-5 overall, 3-3 West Suburban Silver, eliminated in first round of 8A playoffs.

Season ahead: The Huskies put a scare into their opponents last season. They hung with a talented Glenbard North team. They lost by one touchdown to York. They fell to Hinsdale Central 46-45 in a heartbreaker. They even played with state champion Maine South before losing 28-14.

Now, Oak Park wants more.

The Huskies have the pieces returning to potentially do just that. Offensively, they return seven starters. Their offensive line will be big and experienced. Ben Carbery (6-5, 270 pounds), Brad Oxnevad (6-4, 260) and Isaac Chadri (5-10, 260) are all returning, and that’s great news for returning halfback Tony Stapleton and fullback Joe Donlan.

On the other side of the ball, Oak Park’s strengths look to be their defensive line and linebackers. Donlan and Connor Harmon return at linebacker. Mike Raleigh, Jeff Navy and Drevon Brown should all be difference-makers on the line.

“We have a number of players back,” Oak Park coach Jim Nudera said. “We want to start where we left off. We want to build on that attitude and compete and fight.”

Player to watch: Tony Stapleton hasn’t received as much press as some of the area’s top running backs. Oak Park’s up-and-down 2009 season probably has something to do with that. Stapleton should be included with that elite group, though. He’s a mixture of power and speed and rushed for 1,300 yards as a junior. He should be capable of much more this season with an experienced offensive line in front of him. He’s being recruited by a number of MAC schools.

Newcomer to watch: Sophomore wide receiver/safety Tom Odell.

Key game: The Huskies face Glenbard West, Lyons and Hinsdale Central on consecutive weeks during their conference season. All three games will be vital to how their season ends up. Their biggest game, though, might be the season-opener against Glenbard North. The Panthers defeated Oak Park 33-21 last year. If Oak Park is going to be a real threat this season and remain in the rankings, it’ll need to win this game.

What they’re saying: “The potential, it’s there,” Oak Park coach Jim Nudera said. “It’s really important we play well and take another step as a program this season. We’ve been growing.”