Senior running back/linebacker Justin Agne returns as one of the Bulldogs' leaders this season. The St. Mary's alum is also the starting catcher on the RBHS baseball team. (David Pierini/Staff Photographer)

Week 1 Preview

The matchup: Riverside-Brookfield at St. Francis, 7 p.m.

Last season’s records: Riverside-Brookfield (2-7, 2-2 Metro Suburban); St. Francis (5-4, 3-4 Suburban Christian Blue)

Outlook: In recent years, the Bulldogs have always tackled a tough nonconference slate of opponents and this season is no exception.

RB hits the road to open its season in Wheaton against St. Francis. Last season, the Spartans routed the Bulldogs 57-12 at Shuey Stadium in both teams’ 2012 season opener.

After an extensive offseason of workouts, weightlifting, film study and team-building sessions, the Bulldogs appear to enter head coach Brendan Curtin’s second season much better equipped for the rigors of the regular season.

6-foot-7 senior quarterback Jack VandeMerkt takes the controls offensively with plenty of options including running backs Adolfo Linares, Justin Agne, Brian Kulaga and Matt Chapp along with wide receivers Lewis Rogers, Mike McCabe, Mike Davis and tight end Christian Verdin.

Defensively, Agne, Kulaga, Chapp, Richard Theus, Jordan Petronella, Nick DiMarco, John Husir and Ryan Swift among others lead a swarming defense with multiple looks under coordinator Ed O’Bradovich. Kicker Ben Brondos adds value to the special teams, according to Curtin.

Earning a road win against the highly regarded Spartans will be difficult at best; however, if RB can control the ball offensively and limit turnovers the Bulldogs improve their chances. A good start would also do a world of good for the Bulldogs’ confidence. Defensively, RB will have to stand up against the Spartans’ very potent running game. In common gridiron parlance, St. Francis likes to basically “run the ball down their throats” in terms of the game plan versus any opponent.

Host St. Francis is also eager to christen their new stadium, Kuhn Memorial Stadium, tonight against RB. Along with the emotion of opening night at their new digs, the Spartans feature senior running back James Butler (a transfer from Bartlett) who ran for 734 yards, caught 22 passes for 295 yards and scored 13 touchdowns with the Hawks in 2011. Other key players for St. Francis include linebacker Justin Flood, running back/defensive end T.J Jackson (555 rushing yards, eight touchdowns in 2012), wide receiver/linebacker Tom Gitchell, quarterback Zach Prociuk along with senior offensive linemen Mike Andelbradt and James Kalfas.

St. Francis is also a very well-coached team under the guidance of head coach Greg Purnell, who has amassed an impressive 198-85 record in seven seasons with the Spartans.