When Ryan Swift, Dean Zigulich and David Pribyl Pierdinock were called up as sophomores to the Riverside-Brookfield High School varsity football team in 2013, growing pains were a given.

“They knew that they would take it on the chin a bit, but they were unwavering in their decision to come up,” RBHS coach Brendan Curtin said. “Sometimes in high school athletics, kids can be hesitant about coming up to varsity because they don’t want to leave their buddies. Ryan, Dean and David were wise enough to know that playing up would ultimately help their 2016 class of brothers in the football program.

“It all starts with their tremendous work ethic and competitive spirit which rubs off on the other players. When they were freshmen, I knew that they were talented players but I was unaware of their work ethic and intangibles. Obviously, they are well acclimated to the varsity level now.”

After a 1-8 campaign in 2013, the Bulldogs’ Big 3 shed their varsity blues last season by leading the team to a 6-4 record and Class 6A playoff berth. This season, RBHS is 7-1 and primed for the playoffs.

In fact, after a frustrating 3-15 record during his first two seasons at RBHS, Curtin has guided the Bulldogs to 13 wins in 18 games.

Swift, Zigulich and Pribyl Pierdinock have been catalysts for improvement.

“The contributions of these three kids are endless in terms of the size and scope of what they bring to the program,” Curtin said. “They have definitely played key roles in the program’s success.

 “Each of them has an extremely high football IQ and excels in the classroom. We always talk about the accountability factor. Ryan, Dean and David live it and breathe it. They are throwbacks, tough kids who could play football in any era.”

Pribyl Pierdinock is definitely old school. He doesn’t even have a cell phone.

Then again, the tacit understanding shared between the Bulldogs’ top three stars translates well on and off the field.

“We have a close bond,” Pribyl Pierdinock said. “I know Dean and Ryan would do anything for me. We always have each other’s back.”

After tearing the ACL in his right knee during the playoffs last season, Pribyl Pierdinock had surgery in November of 2014 and has excelled as a linebacker/running back this fall.

“I was really worried when my injury first happened,” Pribyl Pierdinock said. “Obviously you think of guys like Derrick Rose who didn’t come back for a couple of years. After my surgery, I decided that I’m going to go all out in my recovery and make it happen. It’s a great feeling to be back on the field with my teammates.”

Another special feeling is the chemistry between Swift and Zigulich. While both have performed at a high level at linebacker and defensive back, respectively, their collective work offensively has been particularly effective and entertaining.

Swift is a three-year starting quarterback and Swift is the Bulldogs’ top receiver.

“This is our fourth year together,” Swift said. “From Day 1 of our freshmen year, we both loved the game and wanted to get better. We’re always playing catch, working on parts of our game and just talking football. I’m a big boy and Dean’s a good athlete so we work really well together.”

Big 3 play both ways

All three embrace the challenge of playing multiple positions for the Bulldogs.

Swift has accounted for 15 touchdowns, 68 percent of the team’s yards gained and 45 tackles. Zigulich has seven TD catches, four interceptions and 27 tackles. Pribyl Pierdinock leads RBHS with 68 tackles including six for loss.

“I can speak for all us in saying we love being two-way players and wouldn’t have it any other way,” Zigulich said. “Even if I had a choice, I wouldn’t want to come off the field. I love competition. It’s challenging epspecially if you put your heart into every single play, but that’s why my teammates are on the field. I rally around them to get some energy.”

The football program is on the rise due to a bevy of talented players, but Curtin and his staff have done an exemplary job as well.

“We have to give all of the credit to Coach Curtin and his staff,” Zigulich said. “When they came in here, there was a lot of poor work ethic and we really didn’t have much of an off-season training program.

“Coach Curtin put all the expectations in place for us to excel. The coaches told us that we can and we will win games with hard work and dedication. It’s not a surprise at all to me to see what’s happening now.”

Curtin won’t soon forget the impact of his prized trio of all-conference players either.

“To have impact players at quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker is a coach’s dream,” Curtin said. “I’m very thankful to have those critical positions filled by not only great players but great young men.”