By Marty Farmer
Since joining the Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division in 2016, the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team has been fairly successful. The Bulldogs' first two seasons in the Blue Division included a 15-5 overall record and pair of postseason appearances.
Last year was more problematic as RBHS struggled to a 2-7 record. The dip in production, however, was largely attributable to an extremely inexperienced starting lineup.
After enduring last year's growing pains, the Bulldogs are hopeful a return to their winning ways, or at the very least, signs of improvement are on the way.
"I'd like to think the experience we gained last year will help us," coach Brendan Curtin said. "The thing about experience though is the lesson is learned after the test. At the end of the day, it's really about how well we can execute what we're trying to do that will matter the most this season."
RBHS will lean on senior leaders Luke Gentile, Chris Doherty, Eddie Pena and Brandon Aguilar. Curtin describes Gentile as the Bulldogs' "Swiss army knife," due to his versatility as an impact running back, wide receiver, defensive back and special teams player. Doherty (RB/DB) and Pena (RB/LB) will also see action on both sides of the ball as will the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Aguilar as a two-way lineman.
Sophomore Owen Murphy and senior Matthew Torres are competing for the starting quarterback position.
"Both guys saw playing time at quarterback last season," Curtin said. "It's kind of neck and neck at quarterback; they are still battling it out. I also feel like we have a strong group of skill players to help our quarterbacks."
In addition to Gentile, Doherty and Pena running the ball, brothers Matt and Nic Novak, Josh Warren, Brady Vaia and Jordan Medrano are all viable options in the passing game.
Aguilar and Jake Stewart will anchor the offensive line, with Geovanni Guzman, Brian Crossman, Matt Smith and Terrence Moody in the mix as well.
The Bulldogs' personnel defensively is similar to the offense with Aguilar, Pena, Gentile, Doherty, Warren and Matt Novak in the lineup. Aguilar will play on the line and Pena at linebacker, while the others are slotted in the secondary.
Other defensive contributors include linemen Josh Dunagan and Rahim Kouferidji, linebackers George Donnamario and Luke Swiatek. Medrano will play a hybrid role of linebacker/safety.
Looking at the conference race, state powerhouses Immaculate Conception and Bishop McNamara lead the way. Last year, IC defeated Bishop Mac 31-21 in the championship game of the Class 4A state playoffs. Collectively, the Knights and Fightin' Irish finished 26-2 last season. St. Francis and Aurora Christian typically field very solid teams.
"We're the only public school [in the Blue Division] in a predominantly private school conference," Curtin said. "When you look at the rosters [of RBHS division opponents] you might not see a lot of numbers, but those rosters are compiled with guys that were pursued to play football. It's going to be a battle every week, especially with two returning state championship qualifiers."
The Bulldogs also hit the road for essentially the first half of the season, with away games in four of their first five contests.
Regardless of venue, RBHS has a plan for the season.
"Our goal is to go 1-0 each week," Curtin said. "It's a unique situation situation going on the road so often early, and then hosting the Big 3 [IC, Bishop Mac, St. Francis]. It certainly will be interesting, but all we can do is take it one game at a time."
Fresh off a productive offseason, Curtin likes what he sees in terms of the Bulldogs' intangibles.
"I think we have a level of good leadership throughout the program," Curtin said. "We have guys that enjoy competition and they are good teammates. Our players firmly believe in trust, commitment and unity so those things should certainly contribute to our level of play on the field."