By Marty Farmer
When Brendan Curtin took over as the Riverside-Brookfield High School football coach in 2012, the Puppettes (school's dance team) performed a spirited routine to the Owl City and Carly Rae Jepson song, "Good Time" during his coaching debut at home.
That moment resonated with me because everybody in the packed stadium (Shuey Stadium at the time) seemed so genuinely happy. I remember thinking this is what Bulldog Football should feel like — fun, festive and alive!
The Bulldogs lost that game and dropped 15 of 18 games overall after Curtin took the job.
Jason Rech (Curtin's predecessor) went 2-7 in 2011. During his brief two-year coaching stint, the Bulldogs finished 6-12 (4-5 in 2010).
Despite glimpses of promise, RBHS won 5 of 27 games from 2011 through 2013. The Bulldogs' future appeared about as bright as the recent solar eclipse.
While Curtin's first two seasons certainly were difficult at best, he always kept the big picture in mind.
As a proud RBHS alumnus and former player in the program, Curtin focused on restoring the Bulldogs' winning tradition by establishing a new culture rooted in accountability, selflessness and hard work.
Fast forward three years, mission accomplished.
Since Curtin's inauspicious 3-15 start, RBHS has gone 23-9 in the past three seasons with a Class 6A state playoff quarterfinals appearance.
During the 2013-2014 school year, Curtin was named the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark Coach of the Year. He has a 26-24 career record at RBHS.
The Bulldogs' 33-0 win against host Morton last week only reinforced how far the program has progressed under his guidance.
Of course, the renaissance of RBHS football hasn't been a one-man job. Curtin is more aware of this reality than anybody.
"Senior leadership," he said. "Our current seniors have been able to see some previous senior classes and how they comported themselves on and off the field. In recent years, our seniors have taken mental notes what it should look like and how it should be if you're a part of RBHS football."
Class of 2016 players Ryan Swift, Dean Zigulich and David Pribyl Pierdinock set the standard. The senior captains powered RBHS to an 11-2 record and the aforementioned quarterfinals appearance in the postseason.
"That senior class and I came in at the same time. They bought into what we were doing," Curtin said. "They bought in so much that they sold it to others; they sold it to guys younger than them."
While having team chemistry is wonderful, let's face it — talent wins games. For the fourth straight year, RBHS appears to have a plethora of playmakers poised to keep the team on track.
Quarterback Hunter Hughes, running back Nicolas Del Nodal, and wide receiver Stefan Giminski are fast, elusive and highly entertaining in the open field. The Bulldogs' offensive line looked terrific and the defense dominant against Morton.
Although tougher games await RBHS, starting this weekend with a "true" road game (1.5 hour drive North) at Wauconda, the Bulldogs' direction was determined the minute Curtin accepted the RBHS football gig.
"Obviously, we've had some success, but I still remember when I first came to RB," he said. "It took a while to change the culture; that will never be forgotten. We don't take anything for granted as a program.
"I enjoy working with the boys every day. Our coaches try to instill in the players a positive culture and behavior. But at the end of the day, our seniors must lead the way."
RBHS has its home opener against Ridgewood on Friday, Sept. 8 (7:15 p.m.) at the Kennelly Athletic Complex.
Reminiscent of Curtin's home debut in 2012, the atmosphere will be fun, festive and alive, with the Bulldogs celebrating Senior Night.
If the Puppettes are taking requests, how about an encore of Owl City and Carly Rae?
Good times have truly arrived for the Bulldogs.