Players give their attention to coaches and referees after scrimmage at RBHS on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. | Ian McLeod

Riverside-Brookfield High School fourth-year starting senior lineman Manny Garcia-Rivera sees a strength everywhere this football season.

“I’ll say leadership. This year it’s phenomenal since the [2022] season ended,” Garcia-Rivera said. “We’ve shown a lot of leadership, not just from the seniors but underclassmen, especially in the weight room.” 

It’s no surprise that the Bulldogs’ veteran roster boasts six senior team captains – Garcia-Rivera, James Espino, Jack Grivetti, Diego Gutierrez, Luke Kumskis and Anthony Petrucci.

RBHS is going after not only a fourth straight IHSA state playoff berth but its first playoff victories since 2017.

In 2022, RBHS (6-4) lost its Class 6A playoff opener at Kaneland 35-14.

“That last game against Kaneland, that put so much motivation not only within the seniors but everybody, the younger guys coming in,” Petrucci said. “They want to help everybody improve to get back up to where we belong, back in the playoffs, past the first round.” 

This season begins against Morton on Aug. 25 at home, where the Bulldogs have their first three games.

Two-way lineman Garcia-Rivera, quarterback Gutierrez, tight end/defensive lineman Kumskis and defensive back/wide receiver Petrucci earned 2022 All-Metro Suburban Conference Red Division honors. Kumskis also was all-conference in 2021.

There are 25 seniors under second-year head coach Sam Styler versus just nine in 2022.

“They know the ins and outs, kind of what I expect out of our program, what our coaching staff expects,” Styler said. 

Garcia-Rivera will primarily play offensive guard but said he will join the defensive line in critical situations.

RBHS QB Diego Gutierrez (5) will look for help from Offensive Linemen like Manny Garcia-Rivera (61) during the upcoming football season. | Ian McLeod

Another fourth-year varsity player and third-year starter, Gutierrez was 114 for 169 passing for 1,958 yards last season with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. Gutierrez also rushed for a team-high 467 yards and six TDs.

Kumskis remains a dual offensive threat at tight end and the backfield. He rushed for 218 yards and five TDs and caught a team-high 25 passes for 364 yards and a team-best six receiving TDs.

Other offensive linemen include senior veteran Dillon Coen, who moves from defensive end, and sophomore Damian Nieves.  

Senior David Valencia rushed for 458 yards and 3 TDs, had 134 receiving yards and contributed occasionally at quarterback. 

As a slot receiver, Petrucci goes both ways for the first time. There’s also speedy and versatile senior Muhammad Salem (60 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 84 receiving yards), Espino and junior Tohma Tucker at wide receiver and sophomore Jacob Retana in the backfield and on returns.

On defense, Grivetti was second in tackles (37) and had two interceptions despite playing most of 2022 with a broken hand. 

Senior Jakub Buska, junior Max Strong and sophomore Eric Servin are linebackers in the Bulldogs’ 3-5 formation. 

Others on defense are junior lineman Kaleb McCottry, senior cornerbacks Garret Angshed and Meech Talley and senior safety Max Almeida.

Senior Niamh Larson, an all-conference girls soccer player, has joined the Bulldogs as their placekicker. Espino is handling punting and kickoffs.

Morton is the only holdover from last year’s schedule. With private schools leaving the MSC, the Bulldogs joined the Southland Conference this year in preparation for eventually moving to the Upstate Eight.

Other conference teams are Bloom, Crete-Monee, Kankakee, Rich Township, Thornridge, Thornton and Thornwood. In 2022, Crete-Monee reached the 6A quarterfinals and Kankakee the 5A second round. Rich Township lost its 8A opener.