When asked about his role as a first-year varsity starting quarterback for the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team, senior Keenan Scott offered an old school NBA analogy.
“We have so many athletes on offense, I can just distribute the ball like John Stockton but on a football field,” Scott said. “Our attitude offensively is that we want to dominate games.”
If Scott passes the ball even remotely as well as the Utah Jazz legend, the Bulldogs should be on target for another successful season.
RBHS finished 10-2 and advanced to the Class 6A quarterfinals of the state playoffs in 2015. Ten starters return (6 defense, 4 offense) for the Bulldogs this season.
Under head coach Brendan Curtin, who took over the program in 2012, the Bulldogs lost 15 of 18 games he coached during the first two years of his tenure. However, RBHS is 16-6 with the aforementioned quarterfinals appearance since the start of the 2014.
High expectations have become the norm around the resurgent football program.
“When we step back and look at our program, we’ve done a lot of good things around here,” Curtin said. “Last season, we made it the quarterfinals for the first time in 15 years, hosted two playoffs games and won 10 games which tied for second (most single-season wins) in school history.
“These are the kinds of expectations we have now. We are not going to shock the world or sneak up on anyone. In fact, we know that we are the biggest school on a lot of other teams’ schedule and we embrace that challenge.”
While RBHS figures to maintain its winning ways this fall, the team must fill the significant leadership and production void left by quarterback/linebacker Ryan Swift, wide receiver/defensive back Dean Zigulich and linebacker/running back David Pribyl Pierdinock. In 2015, Swift was a Class 6A All-State performer with 26 touchdowns and 2,753 yards of total offense. Zigulich had 78 receptions for 911 yards and 10 TDs plus 42 tackles and six interceptions. Pribyl Pierdinock recorded 122 tackles, including 12 for loss.
“Those guys were tremendous representatives for our program,” Curtin said. “I think the current players see how hard those guys worked and want to follow in their footsteps.”
Along with the strong-armed Scott, the Bulldogs have plenty of firepower on offense. Depth is apparent at virtually every position.
Running backs John Mieczkowski, Ja’Mari Wise, Aaron Sheppard and Nick Del Nodal, collectively, should be able to wear down defenses. If the Bulldogs opt for an aerial attack, wide receivers Declan Lanam, Emmanuel Salther, Stefan Giminski, Wise and tight end Zach Mieczkowski are viable targets.
And if Scott happens to struggle during a game, talented backup quarterback Hunter Hughes will be ready for the call.
Along the offensive line, three-year starter Filip Sofeski and veteran Coulter Greenwell offer leadership and experience. Josh Ricchio, Chris Johnson, Alex Hamer, Seth Keeling and Jimmy Mizura are all in the mix for the remaining spots.
“We have a lot of weapons on offense,” Curtin said. “I think we have a lot of guys who can put points on the board, but they also understand football is the ultimate team sport. That’s encouraging.”
Defensively, RBHS will employ a similar “strength in numbers” approach.
Expected impact players include senior defensive end/linebacker Michael Wilson, linebackers Joey Swallow and Zach Mieczkowski, Wise (strong safety) and Johnson (nose tackle).
Jhalen Williams and Giminski are solid defensive backs, while Mizura, Keeling and Darian Dorantes could contribute on the defensive line.
Reminiscent of last year’s leaders (Ryan Swift and Dean Zigulich), Wilson is a superb athlete who plays both offense and defense plus special teams.
“I love playing on both sides of the ball,” Wilson said. “I never want to leave the field. I’m really looking forward to the season because we have a lot of good players who are giving it 100 percent effort every day.
“Two years ago, we made to the first round of the playoffs and have kept progressing,” Wilson said. “Last year, we went to the quarterfinals and I think we can go even further this year. I’m really proud of the team we have become.”
The Bulldogs open the season with four of five games at home. RBHS has six home games overall at the Kennelly Athletic Complex which debuted on Oct. 2 last season.
“It’s nice to have so many home games especially for our fan base,” Zach Mieczkowski said. “It doesn’t matter too much for us because a field is a field. We’re going to come out and play as fast and hard as we can no matter where we are.
In the Metro Suburban Blue, defending champion Immaculate Conception and RBHS should battle for the championship. Glenbard South and Wheaton Academy could contend.
“Coach Curtin has been talking with us about having grit and perseverance,” Zach Mieczkowski said. “If we push through the tough times, we should be right and good in the end.”