Author Buzz Bissinger’s book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream (later adapted into a film and television series) chronicled the 1988 football season of the Permian Panthers and their rabid fan base in Odessa, Texas.
The inherent excitement and buzz (pardon the pun) surrounding Friday night high school football, however, exists within virtually every high school football program and its supporters.
The Riverside-Brookfield High School football program is no exception. The Bulldogs have been putting in the hard yards of practice this summer to be ready for prime time action in the fall.
“When we have workouts, we’re trying to make it competitive to simulate that feeling of a Friday night [game],” said RBHS head coach Brendan Curtin. “That vision seems to resonate with the kids, and they have been working hard this summer.
“Basically, we’re trying to build a sense of accountability with our players. On a daily basis, we’re just trying to better. I think the work we have put in [since last season ended] certainly has pointed us in the right direction.
This summer, a typical five-hour session includes team meetings, weightlifting, leadership/team building sessions, football practice and speed development. For good measure, the Bulldogs are participating in several 7-on-7 leagues and tournaments, hosting youth football camps, and even welcoming in the U.S. Marines who will lead a Bulldogs’ workout later this summer.
The Bulldogs are currently in the midst of a five-week camp, followed by an additional 10-day practice segment after the Fourth of July holiday, and then a final two-week preseason camp in mid-August.
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Lewis Rogers cites the summer workouts as critical to team unity and development.
“We’re working so hard and we’ve grown closer together during the offseason,” Rogers said. “We still have the rest of the summer to get everything done. The closer we get to reaching our potential, the more fun it’s going to be on Friday nights during the season.”
While no set goals have been established in terms of wins, the Bulldogs are obviously eager to improve on last season’s 2-7 record in Curtin’s first season as the RBHS coach.
“It’s a clean slate, that’s the beauty of a new season,” quarterback Jack VandeMerkt said. “We want to shoot high and try to win the [Metro Suburban] conference. We want to go 1-0 every week.
“I think everything is looking up. Our roster is bigger, faster and deeper. In terms of energy, everybody has been enthusiastic and locked every day of practice.”
A sneak peek regarding next season looks promising. VandeMerkt is the starting quarterback with promising sophomore Ryan Swift pegged as his understudy. Justin Agne, Adolfo Linares, Brian Kulaga and Matt Chapp provide a solid stable of running backs. Wide receivers Mike Davis and Rogers along with tight end Christian Verdin and slot receivers Mike McCabe and Chapp should offer an intriguing mix of size and speed in the passing game. 6-4, 285-pound left tackle Lou Grigoletti anchors the offense line, which returns four starters next season.
“We’re making huge improvements already,” Grigoletti said. “We have been working hard together to ensure that we’re a solidified unit when we hit the field for our first game.”
Defensively, Agne, Kulaga and Gerrand Moody are projected as the leaders.
The familiarity level shared between Curtin, his coaching staff and the players is noticeably improved this summer.
“We might not be where we want to be [yet] on either side of the ball,” Curtin said, “but at this time last year, we were still learning names. So much of football revolves around fostering relationships because the game ends for all us eventually. It’s the relationships you take with you beyond playing football that are important.”