During football workouts this summer, new Riverside-Brookfield head coach Brendan Curtin would often shout to his players, ‘Burn the ships, men!” Aside from his meticulous nature as a coach, Curtin is obviously a bit of a history buff as well.
“Burn the ships is an old military slogan used by the Greeks and [later] when Hernando Cortez and the Spanish invaded Mexico to seize treasures from the Aztecs,” Curtin recently explained. “When these armies would reach foreign soil, the first command was to burn the ships, basically saying the only way out of here is victory and leaving on their ships.
“For our football team, it means being totally committed to our cause through good and bad times with no excuses. It’s one thing to expect victory, but we want to deserve it through preparation and hard work.”
Hired in late spring, Curtin, an RB alum and former offensive coordinator at Nazareth, has rallied the RB troops in short order. The Bulldogs graduated 33 players under former coach Jason Rech, so a slew of fresh faces will hit the gridiron this season during Curtin’s debut campaign.
“We’re trying to instill a sense of trust and brotherhood among the players,” Curtin said. “We have some talented kids who are committed to what we’re trying to accomplish as a group.”
Offensively, junior quarterback Jack VandeMerkt replaces Dylan Beketic as the Bulldogs’ offensive leader. Blessed with a strong arm and good size (6-foot-4, 190 pounds), VandeMerkt is a signal-caller with an impressive pedigree as his brother and dad (both former RB quarterbacks) and grandfather (RB coach/athletic director) are all part of the Bulldogs’ football tradition.
“Jack’s work ethic is second to none,” Curtin said. “He leads by example. I think he’s developing well under the offense and getting a firm grasp on what we’re looking for which is ball security.”
RB will employ a running-backs-by-committee approach, handing the rock off to Kevin Garvey, Justin Agne, Joe Urbanski and Hank O’Neal, all of which possess big play potential. Joe Odeh, Mitch Malloy, Lewis Rogers and Christian Verdin comprise the wide receiving corps. Imposing 6-foot-3, 280-pound Lou Grigoletti, who started as a freshman last season, returns at the Bulldogs’ left tackle. Nick Sorrentino, Gabe Lopez, John Husir and Ryan Tracy round out the offensive line.
“We’re working hard and getting after it,” Garvey said. “We don’t have a lot of numbers in terms of players, but the guys who are here are looking good. Our whole focus is on our first game [vs. St. Francis].”
On defense, Malloy and Rogers head up the secondary while Garvey, Urbanski, Richard Theus and Zack Regnier are all hard-hitting linebackers. Defensive tackle Alex Howard, defensive end Brad Bednar and Zach Greenwell will be called upon to provide a steady pass rush and resistance against the run.
“On offense, we’ll run various sets from a three-back formation to an empty set,” Curtin said. “It’s important to stay balanced in the pass-run ratio and ball distribution. Defensively, we’re not looking to do anything fancy. Just keep guys in front of us, don’t give up big plays and make our opponents have to go 10-12 plays to put points on the board.”
On special teams, Odeh is the punter while Dave Swon, Garvey and Odeh should all get touches in the return game. Luke Keller is arguably the Bulldogs’ most versatile player, slated to play wide receiver and defensive back in addition to returning kickoffs/punts.
“We’re trying to change the whole idea of what people think about us,” Malloy said. “RB has turned into a basketball school and we want to get it back to being a football school.”