ROMEOVILLE – The pride is returning to Romeoville High School. And, the Spartans have found the right man to bring it back.
Oliver Gibson, a 1990 Romeoville graduate, has taken over for the departed Jeff Kuna and plans on instilling pride, toughness and most of all success back into his alma mater.
“It’s been a great summer and this is a heck of an honor to come back and coach my school,” said Gibson, a 2015 inductee into the Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame. “I’m superexcited for the opportunity and for the season to begin.”
Gibson, who played in the NFL for nine years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, inherits what could be the youngest and most inexperienced team in recent history.
“That’s a blessing and a curse,” Gibson said of the Spartans, who feature four returnees from a 2-7 season of a year ago. “It’s a blessing because they get to start fresh in a new system, and it’s a curse because they don’t have a lot of varsity experience.”
The new system will include a philosophy of success. Romeoville has had two winning seasons the past 12 years. It last made the playoffs in 2013, its first appearance in 11 years.
“My philosophy is you have to play with pride and have a sense of winning,” Gibson said. “Kids have been coming onto this field and not thinking they are going to win. Kids here don’t expect to win and we have to change that culture. Is it going to happen overnight? No. But, it’s going to happen.”
Romeoville’s offense and defense will be spearheaded by a two-way player, senior running back/defensive back Manual Nartey. Junior running back Jordan Nettles could have a breakout season behind senior quarterback Anthony Kitchens.
Kitchens threw for more than 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. Nartey had 452 receiving yards.
“Nartey is an all-around football player, and Nettles is going to rush for 1,000 yards this year,” Gibson said. “[Kitchens] is stronger, smarter, hungry, and he’s the ultimate dual threat. We’re going to try to keep people off balance.”
The 1989 USA Today National High School Defensive Player of the Year, Gibson is hopeful the offensive line will improve with each snap.
“Our offensive line is young, but they are buying into it,” Gibson said. “We have a bunch of juniors who have to develop. They don’t have a lot of football experience. The same goes for our defensive line.”
Senior middle linebacker Justin Brandon could be the defensive leader. Gibson also is leaning on sophomore defensive end Mike Caceras, junior defensive lineman Davon Maxey and sophomore defensive tackle Rickey Smallwood.
“This is a blue-collar team, and these kids are being taught football by a great coaching staff,” Gibson said. “We’re trying to get kids to fall in love with football. We have 100 kids in the program. But, the kids who are here have been working their tails off.”
The same can be said of Gibson.
“I don’t feel pressure because pressure comes when you are not prepared,” Gibson said. “I’m prepared and these guys are going to be prepared. We want to take some people by surprise, and I think we will.”
The key to Romeoville’s success will be attention to detail.
“We have to do the little things right,” Gibson said. “We are not talent-laden. We have to play fast and execute every time we step on the field.”
SPARTANS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Oliver Gibson
2014 record: 2-7, 2-5 in Southwest Prairie
Classification enrollment: 1,853 (probable class 7A)
Offensive coordinator: Harvey Jackson
Defensive coordinator: Julio Carrasco
Returning offensive starters: RB Manual Nartey
Returning defensive starters: LB Justin Brandon, DL Davon Maxey
August: 28 – Hinsdale South, 7 p.m.
September: 4 – at Bolingbrook, 7 p.m.; 11 – at Minooka, 7 p.m.; 18 – Plainfield Central, 7 p.m.; 25 – Oswego 7 p.m.
October: 2 – at Plainfield South, 7 p.m.; 9 – Plainfield North, 7 p.m.; 16 – at Plainfield East, 7 p.m.; 23 – Oswego East, 7 p.m.