As fourth-year varsity football players, Riverside-Brookfield High School seniors Owen Murphy, Matt Novak and Brady Vaia bring an additional level of focus and urgency this season.
“I’m way more experienced. I’m a way smarter football player [now],” Novak said. “It’s my fourth year at it. I know what to do. I know what not to do. This is the last dance. I’ve got to make it worth it.”
Experience is among the Bulldogs’ strengths as returning starters at 19 positions are determined to significantly improve upon the spring’s 1-5 finish with most losses to highly regarded opponents.
“I think [our players] really took away some valuable lessons about what it takes to be ready to go on Friday nights,” coach Brendan Curtin said. “Having a core group of guys that have played varsity football for multiple seasons should pay dividends.”
Murphy, a nationally rated baseball prospect and Notre Dame recruit, is a multiple threat at quarterback and receiver, if not other positions.
“Owen’s a very versatile player and can play basically anywhere. He’s obviously an elite athlete,” Curtin said.
Murphy said he will miss the season opener against Morton because he is attending the USA Baseball 18-and-under National Team Trials in Florida. But, the position remains deep with senior T.J. Sloan and sophomore Diego Gutierrez.
“I just love this game. When I was a freshman, I was real timid. It’s kind of fun to be on the other side and I can’t wait,” Murphy said.
Returning two-way starters at wide receiver and defensive back are Novak and Vaia (265 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns this spring).
Junior Ryan Novak, not related to Matt, is a third-year starter who earned spring All-Metro Suburban Conference Blue honors after starring at running back (149 yards, 2 TDs) and linebacker.
“We have a lot of chemistry now. Everyone wants the same thing and the same goal so I think a tight bond is super important,” Vaia said. “[The key is] everyone doing what they’re supposed to do because we have the guys here to get stuff done.”
The offense should be even more potent behind five returning starting linemen – juniors Philly Vazzana and Joe Midona, sophomores Manny Garcia-Rivera and Jackson Ramos and senior tight end Brian Twomey.
Senior Ryan Roman and Twomey return on the defensive line.
Other key contributors include seniors Brandon Tennicott, Vinnie Maietta and C.J. Zanieski, juniors Iggy Bielobradek, Marques Turner, Drew Swiatek and Anthony Mikutis and sophomore Luke Kumskis.
“Obviously we’re confident we can have some scoring threats. We’re still young up front but they do have some experience and they’re a very cohesive unit. I think our speed is our defining characteristic on defense,” Curtin said.
LTHS looks for bounce back season
Senior Joey Antonietti made the Lyons Township varsity roster as a sophomore and became starting quarterback for the final four games.
“It feels a lot different [now as a senior]. You’re the big man. You’re the leader. You’ve just got to play like a senior,” Antonietti said. “We’ve got a whole lot of seniors who are stepping up.”
With numerous full- and part-time returning starters, including three who excelled as freshmen, the Lions are hoping beyond their first winning season and IHSA state playoff berth since 2017.
All-West Suburban Conference Silver selection Antonietti, Owen Cherry and John Tobin are senior captains for the Lions, who were 2-2 this spring with two games canceled in Jon Beutjer’s first season as head coach.
At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, sophomore defensive lineman Eddie Tuerk is a force. Already Tuerk has scholarship offers from Michigan, Iowa, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Cincinnati after his showing at North Central College’s summer camp.
“Right away he got offers just the way he ran, moved,” Beutjer said. “He’s a special young man. Really impressive.”
Also back defensively are senior linemen Cole Lagowski and Mhalik Clark, seniors Cooper Schodrof and Tobin and juniors Ricky Cavaliere and Danny Pasko at linebacker, safeties Cherry and senior Owen McManaman and senior cornerback Alex Bailey.
“Defensively right now, we’re flying to the ball. Our defensive line is pretty good. They put a lot of pressure on us [in practice] and that makes us better offensively,” Beutjer said. “Offensively, our strengths are our line, quarterback and running back. And we have some receivers that can run and catch the ball.”
Antonietti said he passed about 40 percent of LT’s offensive plays in the spring to complement sophomore running back Jack Cheney’s emergence as another talented freshman and senior Stevan Borojevic.
Junior left tackle Aidan Hallett, senior left guard Kyle Clifton and senior right tackle Liam Cashin return to the offensive line.
Senior Colin Grace and sophomore Noah Pfafflin, another freshman spring standout, are back as receivers along with Travis Stamm, this season’s varsity freshman. Senior kicker Marko Dubak is another scoring threat.