Bret Bushka recalls his first varsity snap like it was yesterday.
It was a blur.
“Lake Forest, Week 1 sophomore year, the crowd was packed, we were trying to run a simple play that we ran all the time,” said Bushka, Glenbard East’s 5-foot-10 senior quarterback. “I remember specifically how quickly the defensive line fired off the ball. I was like, ‘Wow, this game is very fast.’”
With two full years under his belt, the game has slowed considerably for Bushka. The Rams should realize the benefits of that experience.
Glenbard East, as a whole, is a veteran group – a big reason why the program is poised to build off a strong finish to last year in the revamped Upstate Eight Conference.
“The experience and leadership is probably the best that I have been on,” Bushka said. “Everyone knows their roles, and we’re having fun with it. We have a real positive feel around us.”
The Rams return four starters on the offensive line, a group led by All-Conference left tackle Ben Pham.
Jeremiah Johnson has caught 88 passes the past two years.
But it starts with Bushka, who threw for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior. With exceptional athleticism and a big arm, he’s shown the ability to deliver the ball on time since he was a sophomore.
“What’s matured the most is his understanding of the game and football IQ,” Rams coach John Walters said. “The way he sees things, he can finish calls. We can change plays and audible because he picks it up so fast.”
Bushka credits his coach for helping prepare him.
“Walters gives me freedom to flip a play, to change to a run or pass, to change to a different run,” Bushka said. “I have as much freedom as I possibly could get. Understanding defenses, what they are running before the ball is snapped, that helps a lot over time.”
It also helps having a go-to guy like Johnson around.
“I’ve known him since the first grade,” Bushka said. “The chemistry is really good.”
Walters hopes for improved balance offensively with Jake Netchin running between the tackles.
The experience carries over to the defense, where seven starters return. Keying that group are three-year starting linebackers Anthony Shockey and Jake Baka. The third linebacker, Josh Landolina, was a spot starter as a sophomore.
In the secondary, cornerback Nehemiah Jones holds six scholarship offers, and Mashar Lewis is finally healthy after missing two years with injuries.
“He brings a shutdown corner, speed and athleticism to the corner,” said Walters, who also has Danny Hurtado returning on the back line.
Such a senior-laden group lends optimism that this could be Glenbard East’s first winning season and playoff team since 1999.
“I think everybody knows that we will be a senior-dominant team, with guys that know what it’s like to be in the heat of the battle and know how to respond,” Walters said. “Our league has changed. It’s awesome that we have all these conference games. It’s a league that we can be very competitive in.”
GLENBARD EAST RAMS
Coach: John Walters
2017 record: 3-6
Bret Bushka sr. QB
Anthony Shockey sr. LB
Jeremy Johnson sr. WR
Nehemiah Jones sr. CB
Ben Pham sr. OL
Jack Baka sr. LB/DB
Dan Hurtado sr. DB
Josh Landolina sr. LB
Jesus Lopez sr. DT/OL
Mashar Lewis sr. WR/DB
Jimmy Cotterill sr. FS/SB
Aug. 24 Elgin 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 at Bartlett 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 West Chicago 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 West Aurora, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 22 at South Elgin, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 at East Aurora 7:30 p.m
Oct. 5 Streamwood 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Glenbard South 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Larkin 7:30 p.m.