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By Marty Farmer
With the start of the regular season about three weeks away, the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team is looking forward to a fresh start.
Although the Bulldogs finished 2-7 in 2018, several players gained varsity experience. Additionally, the team's subpar record was largely attributable to the mass exodus of 18 starters, who graduated in 2017 after leading RBHS to an 8-2 record that year.
"We had to rely on our younger players for many reasons last season," RBHS coach Brendan Curtin said, "but they have received a great education of what it takes to compete at the varsity level. We look forward to applying what we have learned to our upcoming 2019 campaign."
RBHS continued its development during a busy offseason. The Bulldogs hit the weight room, had film study, held team workouts as well an open practice to the public, competed in 7-on-7 competitions at Brother Rice and Willowbrook, and even fostered their camaraderie during a team camp at Illinois Wesleyan University.
"Quite honestly, summer is when players shed the blood, sweat and tears with their brothers on the field," Curtin said.
The Bulldogs welcome back an interesting mix of seniors, juniors and sophomores this year. The starting lineup on both sides of the ball remains mostly undetermined at the moment. That's a good thing for a team with much to prove.
"Playing time for virtually every position is wide open and our players recognize this," Curtin said. "The competition has increased exponentially. We stress effort before every practice and our players have enthusiastically embraced this objective."
While RBHS is approaching the season with a team-centric attitude and particular emphasis on the fundamentals, Curtin cited Luke Gentile, Eddie Pena, Chris Doherty and Brandon Aguilar as leaders.
Gentile scored the game-winning touchdown in a 20-14 overtime victory against Morton in the season opener last year. He also teamed with Doherty to fuel the Bulldogs' ground game in a 14-3 win over Ridgewood in Week 6 last season. Both contributed defensively as well in 2018.
"Luke is a returning all-conference player. He's our version of a Swiss Army knife, because he will play a variety of positions for us," Curtin said. "Eddie, Chris and Brandon are other senior leaders who have been in the program for four years. All four have exceptional ability on the turf."
Curtin creates a team slogan each season. This year's motto is "Bulldog Way: All Day, Every Day," which seems appropriate since the players will be called on for their full commitment.
"We're asking our players to learn all three systems on all three units: offense, defense and special teams," Curtin said. "Some will be asked to learn multiple positions within those three units. It's a big ask but the benefits and pay-offs are the difference between wins and losses."
RBHS opens the season at Morton on Friday, Aug. 30. The nonconference game between area rivals kicks off at 7:15 p.m. on the Morton West campus in Berwyn.
The Bulldogs' home opener is against Bishop McNamara on Friday, Sept. 13 at 7:15 p.m. The remaining home games (all on Friday at 7:15 p.m.) are against Ridgewood (Oct. 4), St. Francis (Oct. 11) and Immaculate Conception (Oct. 25). In addition to Morton, RBHS has road games at Wauconda, Aurora Christian, Aurora Central Catholic and Wheaton Academy.
Varsity practice begins on Monday, Aug. 12.
"I believe our young men are up to the challenge," Curtin said. "We'll find out in Week 1."