The curtain goes up for head coach Brendan Curtin and the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team against host St. Francis on Friday (7 p.m.) in Wheaton. There’s a definite curiosity about the Bulldogs to see their development in Year Two of the Curtin coaching era at RBHS.
Last year, RBHS finished 2-7 overall and 2-2 in the Metro Suburban Conference. After starting off 0-4 last season, the Bulldogs rebounded well with a 2-3 record the rest of the way highlighted by solid conference victories against Ridgewood and Elmwood Park.
The Bulldogs turned in quite a summer dress rehearsal of sorts preparing for the bright lights of the upcoming regular season. The meticulous Curtin and his coaching staff put the players through extensive practices highlighted by a grueling workout with the U.S. Marines during the offseason in hopes of improving this season.
Emerging from all the two-a-day practices, film study, conditioning, weightlifting and team-building sessions, the revitallized Bulldogs enter the 2013 upcoming campaign brimming with confidence and a clear cut identity: one team, one heartbeat.
“We always talk about embracing a sense of brotherhood and each player showing selflessness in supporting his teammates’ well-being and accomplishments,” Curtin said. “We are going to pride ourselves on always being the most enthusiastic team on the football field. It’s important we’re a team that loves football and all the benefits it brings us.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs should benefit from a starting lineup loaded with versatile and fast players. Rangy 6-foot-6 senior quarterback Jack VandeMerkt returns to direct the RBHS offense. VandeMerkt is a strong-armed quarterback who can also escape the pocket and run for postive gains when needed. The Bulldogs’ ground game will feature running backs Adolfo Linares, Justin Agne, Brian Kulaga and Matt Chapp. Linares and Chapp are built to provide plenty of burst, while Agne is a bruising back equipped to pick up the hard yards. Kulaga is an all-purpose athlete who will help the Bulldogs all over the field.
Lewis Rogers, Mike McCabe, Mike Davis, Antone Dixon and Chapp form a cadre of wide receivers along with tight end Christian Verdin to offer additional speed and size in the Bulldogs’ attack. Verdin looked very promising last season until an injury put him on the shelf for most of 2012.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Kulaga said. “The coaching staff has really prepared us well for the season.”
Like most football teams, the offensive line figures to fly under the radar but is vitally important for RBHS. 6-foot-4, 285-pound left tackle Lou Grigoletti anchors the Bulldogs’ seasoned front wall, which welcomes back four starters. Left guard John Maggos, center Gabe Lopez, right guard Vince Castillo and right tackle Zach Greenwell comprise the rest of the line charged with protecting VandeMerkt.
On defense, linebackers Jordan Petronella, Richard Theus, Agne and Kulaga are all hard-hitting playmakers in defensive coordinator Ed O’Bradovich’s system. Varsity veteran John Husir, Nick Cundari and Ryan Swift will play along the defensive line. Husir played on the offensive line last season but is switching to the other side of the ball. Swift is a very promising sophomore who is also pegged as VandeMerkt’s understudy at quarterback. Jimmy Kunkel, Gerrand Moody, Nick DiMarco and Rogers get the starting nod in the RBHS secondary. With several RBHS track members donning shoulder pads this fall, the Bulldogs’ team speed is impressive.
“Coach O’Bradovich likes to mix things up,” DiMarco said about the Bulldogs’ defensive scheme. “It’s really about each player doing his part to help the team. We need to do the little things in big games.”
Ben Brondos is the Bulldogs’ kicker and Chapp will handle the punting responsibilities. Speed merchants Marvin McKenzie, Chapp, Linares, Rogers could all see playing time in the return game.
“As the days went by [during the summer], we got more hungry for the season.” Rogers said. “We are definitely ready to go out and hit some uniforms with different colors.”
Of the nine games RBHS will play this season only four are within the Metro Suburban Conference. The Bulldogs kick off the season with four straight difficult nonconference games including tough tilts against St. Francis and Lemont.
For now, the Bulldogs’ focus is strictly on the Spartans.
“St. Francis is a phenomenal program,” Curtin said. “Their offense is a well-oiled machine. We’ll certainly have our hands full.”