Defense to be RB's anchor this season

Team begins play in new league, but against familiar foes

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The Bulldogs are itching to start the season.

Riverside Brookfield is coming off a 4-1 Suburban Prairie (East) Conference finish (5-5 overall) including an impressive sixth straight appearance in the postseason. Still, that is small potatoes compared to this season's potential, according to coach Otto Zeman. Zeman should be trusted. After all, he is entering his 25th year as the Bulldogs head coach and is one of the elder statesmen in Illinois high school football. Still, this will be a year of firsts for Zeman and his Bulldogs, considering they will now call the Metro Suburban League home, competing against Fenton, Elmwood Park and Ridgewood.

"We have played all the teams in our league in year's past, so it will be relatively familiar for the kids," Zeman said. "We may be the favorites to win the league, but that really doesn't mean anything to us. I really think the first three non-league games will really determine our season."

That said, Zeman is confident his senior-laden Bulldogs have the goods to deliver a first-place finish and make a strong showing in the postseason. The first element in RB's winning formula will be the defense. The Bulldogs return nine starters from the starting 11 last year and will be anchored by senior captain Hank Sitkiewicz. The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pounder will play inside and outside linebacker. Seniors Dylan Wienke, Vince Torres, Drew Hunt and junior Dylan Krug will also share inside linebacking duties. Hunt will also play defensive end for the Bulldogs. RB also boasts a speedy and experienced secondary and Zeman has the added luxury of five players vying for four positions. Senior Mike Kearney will return to safety, while fellow senior Sean Connolly will return to cornerback. Seniors Mario Triplett and Dave McDermott will also play safety. Zeman also expects big things from senior defensive tackle, Alex Doritch.

"Our linebackers and secondary are really going to be strong and lead the way for us this season," he said.

While the defense is undoubtedly solid, the offense also boasts several talented players. Look no further than senior quarterback Chris Pesek, who has already passed for 58 touchdowns and amassed 5,200 passing yards in his previous two seasons under center. If Pesek keeps that pace, he will be right up there with the best high school quarterbacks in Illinois, according to Zeman. Junior Lucas Hackel gives the Bulldogs a quality backup and provides a nice insurance policy for Zeman. Pesek will have several targets at receiver, including juniors Deon Walker and Justin Walls, plus seniors Dragon Milic, Mike Razniewski, Dan Hardina, Christian Musser and Nick Kedzuch. Last, with seniors Greg Pawlik and Austin Badder in the backfield, the Bulldogs will have good offensive balance and be a handful for opposing defenses. Pesek's success hinges on the offensive line, however, made up of center Don Johnston and backup center Alex Knight. Senior Chris Sayatovic will play offensive tackle, while sophomores Billy Vermillion and Matt Regnier fill the guard positions. Seniors Eric Gutknecht and John Franzo will round out the offensive line.

The Bulldogs will have the added burden of playing their first three games of the season on the road, while their home field is being renovated. The team will play its first game on the new field Sept. 15 against Elmwood Park.

The Bulldogs open the season Friday at Metamora (7 p.m.).

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