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Vikings football players strictly adhere to pregame ritual
By Deborah Kunesh | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 11/2/2007 12:27 AM

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Plenty of athletes have superstitions, so it's not a surprise that a group of Geneva High School football players has held fast to a particular pregame ritual.

But this one is much more than a simple handshake or chant on the field. It involves the memory of a former teammate and a get-together at a local deli.

The tradition was started a year ago by then-senior Carl Sandman, who was a regular customer at RJ's Deli at 113 W. State St. It has continued through this year for good reason -- it works.

The Vikings went 9-0 in the regular season this year and defeated Bradley-Bourbonnais in the first round of the playoffs. Today they face St. Charles East in a 7:30 p.m. home game.

Junior Michael Ratay said the group went with Sandman one day and "we just kept going (back). We liked the food, and, we kept winning."

The four players -- Ratay, senior Jake Conforti, junior Brennan Quinn and senior Colin McCaffrey -- all agree that they are superstitious. Conforti also said it helps them with their mental approach to the game.

A more serious part of the tradition that started this year is to visit the grave of Dustin Villareal, who would have been a junior this year. Villareal died in May 2006 and was a good friend of the teammates.

After the visit, they go to RJ's. Each one has to sit at the same table and in the same seats while they wait for their sandwiches, which are always "to go." At each visit the guys order the same subs. "We all get subs, three of us get Italian, and Colin gets an American," said Ratay.

They go back to the school to eat the subs in their coach's room, watch film and take naps. A while later, the coach comes in to give a talk and they leave for the locker room to prepare for the game.

They take this ritual pretty seriously. "If we forget to do something," said Ratay, "we're worried that something can go wrong."

In fact, last year, they brought another player along with them to RJ's before a playoff game, a disruption from their normal pregame routine, and they lost that game. So they went back to keeping it to the group of four.

Sylvia Martinez, co-owner of RJ's Deli, along with her husband, Raul, said they enjoy having the Geneva football players come in each Friday because they get to feel a part of this winning routine.

"They are very nice," states Martinez. "If one doesn't push their chair back after getting up, one of the other guys will remind him. They always leave the place how they found it."