I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. I love the fact that, annually, I come up with a ton of resolutions, but I hate the fact that I follow through on few (if any). My current 2014 “to do” list currently sits at 22 items. Since Marty’s resolve about actually checking off Marty’s aforementioned 22 resolutions for world domination is a decidedly volatile market, I say bet the under.
I will, however, proudly cite and check off one at least one of the resolutions via this column — a tributary tip of the cap to the Riverside-Brookfield High School head football coach Brendan Curtin and the other members of the program, even though it’s two months overdue.
When I recently selected the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark’s top sports moments of 2013, the RBHS football team justifiably didn’t make the cut. While winning isn’t everything, let’s face it, the Bulldogs’ 1-8 record and abysmal scoring differential excused them from marquee-status consideration. Thankfully, the natives aren’t restless, yet, allowing Curtin a reasonable amount of time to rebuild a football program known for past glory with guys like Tim Brasic and Shatone Powers.
Regardless of 2013’s results, there was a “hidden” value about this particular group of Bulldogs that transcended the Shuey Stadium scoreboard. The admirable manner in which the majority of the players and coaches handled adversity through an injury-riddled, loss-laden, and frankly bummer of season was noteworthy, even if not top sports moments-worthy. It’s also why they became one of my favorite teams during the fall sports season.
“When you talk about the character of our team, it’s not something that just happened overnight,” said Curtin, who played football at RBHS. “We dedicated at least 25 minutes a day the past summer to leadership meetings, and we continually discuss the importance of core values of trust, commitment and unity as staples of our program.
“Make no mistake, we all want to see more wins and more celebrations on Friday night. Our guys are putting time in the weight room during the offseason and showing a commitment to the program. Ultimately, the relationships we develop and core values we subscribe to will stand the test of time.
In many respects, senior standout Lewis Rogers inspired me to revisit the Buldogs, recalling some wonderful setinments he expressed after the Bulldogs’ lone win, a 42-7 decisicion over Elmwood Park, during the season.
“I think a lot of our players worked really hard and showed improvement over the season,” Rogers said. “I’ve learned so much about football from Coach Curtin and the coaching staff. I’m having fun and just love playing the game.”
Talk about gratitude and the proper perspective — thank you, Mr. Rogers, for that reminder.
Other team leaders like Justin Agne, Zach Greenwell and Gabe Lopez also bought into and epitomized the Bulldogs’ team concept. These selfless “team guys” truly relished every moment on the football field. Thin or flush, win or lose, they represented the “Bulldog Way.”
Not every player bought into the Bulldogs’ system, but that’s par for the course with any sports team or any walk of life.
Overall, the coaches and players worked exhaustively leading into last season, even partaking in a grueling workout with the U.S. Marines. Off the field, the Bulldogs took part in several charitable endeavors, including their recent “Stockings for Soldiers” initiative, partnering with Kuratko-Nosek Funeral Home in North Riverside to provide our military men and women with an extra Christmas gift. The Bulldogs donated over 50 holiday stockings filled with “everyday items of need” for service members such as personal care items, clothing, and books.
“One of our team values is giving back to the community and we thought this would be a fun team building activity while showing our gratitude for the sacrifices our soldiers make for our country,” RBHS running back/safety Adolfo Linares said.
Added Curtin about “Stockings for Solidiers”: “I’m really proud of the program and how they showcased the strength of pulling together for a common cause. These student-athletes have a tremendous work ethic and I look forward to what they will continue to accomplish as a program.”
I also vividly remember when the entire football team attended Anthony Garvey’s wake (the father of former RBHS football player, Kevin Garvey). Clad in their blue jerseys, it was truly touching to see how much the football program (and entire RBHS community for that matter) cared for and supported the Garvey family during that difficult time over the summer.
When fall rolled around, adversity maintained its relentless pursuit to sabotage the Bulldogs’ optimism.
Injuries certainly didn’t help the Bulldogs’ cause either in 2013. Quarterback Jack VandeMerkt along with explosive playmakers like Matt Chapp and Brian Kulaga all missed the bulk of the season due to injury, severely hampering the Bulldogs’ ability to win games. RBHS also played a brutal nonconference schedule facing perennial powers like Lemont, St. Francis and Nazareth. Even Mother Nature seemingly conspired against the tough-luck Bulldogs, who had to reschedule their game against St. Francis three times due to lightning. The Bulldogs and Spartans finally “got it on” via a set-your-alarms early Sunday morning kickoff in Wheaton.
“Injuries are part of the game but it happened to us with 5 or 6 of our quick-strike players,” Curtin said. “We started six different [offensive] backfield combinations. We faced plenty of adversity throughout the season, but the greatest opportunities in life are the ones that test you the most.”
The first time I really got to know Curtin was at the 2013 RBHS Golf Outing, run by the school’s booster club. Before the third tee, I already surmised he was a very intelligent guy with an engaging personality.
While we kidded around and re-enacted too many Caddyshack swings on the golf course with guys like his brother, Brian (a former RB football star in the late 90s’), RBHS track/football coach Tim Olson and RBHS Booster Club President Chris Agne that memorable rain-soaked day, Curtin also spoke passionately about his vision for the Bulldogs. Most importantly, he talked about how the players should comport themselves on and off the field. Consider it the “Bulldog Way.”
Looking ahead to next season (Curtin’s third as the Bulldogs’ coach), there is cause for optimism. I’m not talking Tommy Lasorda or Anthony Robbins-level glee, but certainly reasonale hope for improvement and perhaps more wins. Like Rome, however, football progams like Mount Carmel and Glenbard West aren’t built in a day. Regardless, RBHS quarterback Ryan Swift, wide receiver Dean Zigulich and Linares along with the return of Kulaga and Chapp provide the team a stable of offensive weapons.
So my resolution to write about “an under-the-radar team that went about things the right way” is checked off. Now if I could only do something about getting the Bulldogs some more wins.