Riverside-Brookfield High School football coach Brendan Curtin likes to leave no stone unturned regarding ideas to expedite the Bulldogs’ improvement. This summer, the meticulous second-year head coach has the Bulldogs putting in considerable practice time — watching video, strength training in the weight room, and of course, conditioning and conducting drills on the football field.
To add value and certainly a touch of variety to the Bulldogs’ practice itinerary, Curtin recently enlisted the services of U.S. Marines Capt. Daniel Kinney and Sgt. Nathan Scheid along with other military personnel to lead the Bulldogs in a challenging “Marine Day” workout.
“In February, I attended a Glazier Clinic [football clinic] and the Marines had a station set up,” Curtin said. “I knew the Marines had worked with high school [football programs] in the past, so I thought the experience would resonate with our players.
“I think a lot of people cringe when they hear comparisons between the military and a football team, but I think there are some parallels. We both embrace competition and strive to live our lives to a high standard. There’s a price to pay for being a Bulldog or a Leatherneck.”
Interestingly enough, another nickname for the Marines is “Devil Dogs,” a term dating back to the USMC’s spirited fighting shown against the Germans at the Battle of Belleau Woods in 1918. That year, a recruiting poster depicted a bulldog (the USMC Mascot) chasing down another dog, a German dachshund. Symbolically, the Marines and bulldogs share a history dating more than 95 years.
On July 10, the aforementioned captain, two sergeants and a handful of ROTC members visited RBHS to put the Bulldogs through a brief but strenuous, detailed workout.
The program started with a discussion in the classroom about core values. First, the Marines touched on their central core values encapsulated by the acronym JJ DID TIE BUCKLE (Judgment, Justice, Dependability, Integrity, Decisiveness, Tact, Initiative, Endurance, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty, Enthusiasm). After the Marines shared their thoughts on what those words mean to them, several RBHS players contributed their insights on the importance of those words in relation to their lives and as members of the RBHS football team.
On the field, the Marines instructed the players to form a line in an efficient manner, and then do four-count Marine jumping jacks along with several trust-building between teammates exercises. While the workout itinerary may not sound too rigorous, the players put in plenty of hard yards, literally, during the exhausting field portion of the day.
“It was pretty tough, mentally and physically taxing,” wide receiver Mike McCabe said. “At the start of the workout, we couldn’t line up correctly, so we had to run back and forth the length of the field 200 yards. It took us four times to line up right, which meant we ran 800 yards. The camp taught us about discipline, attention to detail and trusting your teammates.”
Senior Justin Agne, a linebacker/fullback, echoed McCabe’s sentiments about the unconventionally effective exercises.
“We had to build a house staying up on our hands and feet as someone crawled through underneath us for like 25 yards,” Agne said. “It was hard to stay up because it wore my arms down. If we messed up anything on the field, we had to do it over. We had to depend on each other as teammates to do things the way the Marines wanted it done.”
The long-lasting benefit for the Bulldogs from the workout is likely a strengthened bond from an already tight-knit group.
“Spending time with the Marines really showed how us brotherhood comes into play,” said Zach Greenwell, the Bulldogs’ right tackle. “I thought it was just going to be a lot of field work, sprinting back and forth. They taught us about the importance of working together as a team.”
Coming off a 2-7 record in 2013 in Curtin’s head coaching debut, the Bulldogs will need, to borrow a USMC mantra, “improvise, adapt and overcome,” and more to be successful in the upcoming season which kicks off at St. Francis on Friday, Aug. 30.
“We have been pushing forward,” Agne said. “Honestly, I feel more attached with the guys from the lower levels all the way up to seniors. We joke around and interact with each other, but we also know when it’s time to get serious.”
Similar to the buzz that permeates Major League Baseball’s spring training, the Bulldogs are employing a tabula rasa optimism regarding their upcoming campaign.
“It’s definitely a clean slate, that’s the beauty of a new season,” quarterback Jack VandeMerkt said earlier this summer. “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 in every day of practice.”
The returning personnel looks promising for the Bulldogs. The athletic, lanky VandeMerkt returns as the starting quarterback with Ryan Swift tagged as a capable backup. Adolfo Linares, Brian Kulaga, Matt Chapp and Agne could all see playing time at running back, while Mike Davis, Lewis Rogers, McCabe and Chapp comprise a fast, versatile wide corps of receivers. The offensive line welcomes back four starters, notably 6-foot-4, 285-pound Lou Grigoletti and Greenwell.
Gerrand Moody, Agne, and Kulaga, among others, will anchor the defense.
As for the Marines, they apparently enjoyed the experience at Shuey Stadium as much as the high school athletes.
“When the Marines were walking off the field, they told me, ‘You have a special group of kids,’ Curtin said. “Obviously, we’re very thankful they took the time to come [to RBHS], and I think our kids really enjoyed and benefitted from the experience. There will be defining moments during the season when adversity comes up; hopefully, the kids can draw on ‘Marine Day’ as a source of strength.”
As to whether the Marines will visit the Bulldogs in the future, Curtin offered a succinct response: “Semper Suscipiat” (which means, “always welcome” in Latin).