By Mark Gregory
There is a lot arou
nd the Romeoville football team that will look the same this season and a lot will look different.
The main difference will be on the sidelines as Oliver Gibson takes over the head coaching job from Jeff Kuna, who resigned before the start of the season.
Gibson was an All-American player for the Spartans and the 1989 USA Today High School Football Defensive Player of the Year.
Gibson played collegiately at the University of Notre Dame and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He played from 1995–2003 for the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
Gibson was recently inducted into the Joliet area Sports Hall of Fame.
Gibson will bring a lot of new looks to the Spartans with an overhauled coaching staff and new systems on offense and defense, but some things will look the same.
Due to lack of numbers, Romeoville will again feature two-way players.
“We have to play some iron man football because of low numbers,” Gibson said. “But all I ask for is give me 30 guys who love the game and want to be competitive and have an attention to detail and have a passion for football. The rest will figure itself out.”
One of those two-way players will be the explosive Maunel Nartey, who tallied 452 yards in catches last year and was also a fixture in the defensive backfield.
Nartey will have a familiar face throwing him the football this year.
Anthony Kitchens comes back at quarterback after taking over for Kelvin Jones last season. In a part-time role, Kitchens threw for 1,501 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“We have seen those guys step up,” Gibson said. “Kitchens is a natural athlete and he is a dual threat. He just has to protect the football. Nartey can do anything on a football field. We have to get the ball in his hands.”
Jordan Nettles returns at running back and Gibson has high hopes for him.
“There is no reason he shouldn’t have 1,500 yards,” he said.
The defense will look to Justin Brandon at the middle linebacker spot to pace a young defense. Sophomore Mike Caceres has impressed on the defensive line and Nartey will bring leadership to a young secondary. Gavin Harwey will add quickness.
Thaddeus Ampadu will play on the defensive line as well as at center for Romeoville.
“We are looking competitive and that is all I can ask for,” Gibson said. “We are a young team and I hate that cliché expression, but we are and there will be some growing pains.”
Gibson also said he has spent time this season teaching the game the way he learned it.
“There were a lot bad habits. Let’s face it, 2-7 on varsity and 0-9 on sophomore doesn’t really make for a good preseason mix,” he said. “But if they throw away all the things they thought they knew about football and start with fundamentals, that is what I like. That is the type of player I was. I went to Notre Dame as an All-American and realized I didn’t know how to play football.”
The Spartans will open the season at home against Hinsdale South on Aug. 28 before travelling across district to face Bolingbrook in what will likely be the final game between the two teams for the foreseeable future.
Romeoville then travels to Minooka before hosting Plainfield Central and Oswego. They have a home game against Plainfield North sandwiched in between a pair of road games at Plainfield South and East before ending the regular season at home against Oswego East.