If the Riverside-Brookfield football team is wearing a target, it might as well be a moving target.
With a returning junior quarterback and a loaded offensive line, the Bulldogs have garnered a lot of press as prognosticators pick them to be among the Illinois football elite.
“We have everyone fooled,” jokes RB coach Otto Zeman, before saying, “I think the publicity gets our kids fired up. It’s kind of a reward for working hard. I’ve noticed since the (Chicago Tribune preseason rankings) came out, we’ve practiced a little better.”
Zeman is also quick to point out that press clippings aren’t tallied in the win column, and his team is well aware of that.
The Bulldogs, coming off an 8-3 season and a Suburban Prairie (East) Conference title, are looking to qualify for their sixth consecutive playoff berth and 10th since Zeman took over in 1982.
RB’s chances should be good in the hands of junior quarterback Chris Pesek. Pesek went 6-0 as a starter last year after taking over for an injured Mike Marotta. He finished the year with 32 touchdown passes and more than 2,300 passing yards.
Pesek will also be guarded by an experienced offensive line. Seniors Mike Glisson (6-foot, 200 pounds) and Bryan Tabor (5-9, 200) will anchor the offensive line at center and guard, respectively. Seniors Dan Roth (6-1, 260), Jose Campos (6-0, 235) and Adam Gjondla (6-0, 220) will take the other starting spots, while juniors John Buckley (5-11, 175), John Franzo (6-10, 190) and Matt Nieman (5-11, 165) will give that unit plenty of depth.
Wide receiver Matt Sandrik is a returner, but outside of the 6-foot-4, 175-pound senior, Pesek will have a new set of targets, including seniors Oscar Reyes (6-0, 160) and Russ Kesman (5-11, 170), as well as juniors Mike Razniewski (6-0, 165) and Mike Kearney (5-11, 190). Juniors Chris Musser (5-7, 140), Dragan Milic (5-9, 170), Dan Hardina (6-3, 165) and sophomore Deon Walker (5-9, 165) should also find themselves in the mix.
“We have some burners,” Zeman said. “We have a nice mix of kids that can play there, and they’re all pretty tough.”
While the offense is loaded, the Bulldogs will only travel as far as their defense carries them. In that department, Zeman sees a lot of improvement.
RB returns its best starting lineman from a year ago, senior John Passarella (5-10, 170). His quickness and athleticism will key the defensive line.
Senior Mike Clarke (6-1, 210) begins his third year on varsity with a move from the offensive line to the defensive line. He’s joined by another former O-lineman, John Massey (6-0, 225).
Alex Dortch (5-10, 200), Chris Sayotovic (6-5, 210), Justin Smith (6-3, 190) and Brian Elslager (6-4, 190) fill out the primary D-line rotation.
Junior Henry Sitkiewicz (6-1, 200), who started as a sophomore last year, will lead the linebacking corps. Juniors Dylan Wienke (6-0, 200), a former standout at Fenwick, Drew Hunt (6-0, 170), senior R.J. McLain (6-0, 190) and sophomore Don Johnson (5-9, 190) will also start or see significant playing time.
Seniors Adrian Alicea (5-11, 155), Joe Felder (5-8, 165), Brendan Krems (5-9, 17), Kevin Quilty (5-8, 165) and juniors Mario Triplett (5-10, 175) and Mark Becka (6-0, 160) will all share the chores in the secondary.
Junior Sean Cloherty (5-9, 140) will handle the kicking duties.
The Bulldogs have their eyes on a lot of goals, including a repeat at the top of the Suburban Prairie East standings, and another trip to the playoffs. But Zeman still has this group taking games one at a time, beginning with Friday’s season opener at home against Yorkville, which begins at 7:30 p.m.