Aug 31, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
It would be quite easy, if not downright tempting, to downgrade the status of the Westhill football team simply because a certain highlight-reel running back has left the scene.
Over the last two years, as the Warriors swept through the Class B West division and made it to back-to-back Section III title games, Dale Ross laid waste to record books and dominated the situation every time he touched the ball.
As it always goes in the high-school ranks, though, Ross had to leave. His departure, on the surface, seems to make Westhill more vulnerable from league and sectional challengers as the 2008 season gets underway.
Actually, head coach Gary Griffo and his players might not mind being underestimated, because the pieces and circumstances are there to make another title run.
The most difficult part of seeing Ross go, said Griffo, was the fact that his big-play ability masked mistakes made in other parts of the field. Without that security blanket, the rest of the players have a smaller margin for error.
A positive came out of this era, too. Griffo said that, as Ross and (before him) Joe Casey were turning Westhill into a perennial football powerhosue, interest in the program among students only grew, helped more by the addition of a new fitness facility at the school that all the players got involved in.
That excitement is reflected in the number of kids that have come out for football this year — 37 for the varsity, 34 for the JV team. With increased numbers comes a better chance to find top-flight athletes that can fill any necessary role.
Thus, while no single running back might duplicate what Ross did, a group of good runners can be just as effective. Sam Penizotto and Mike Mascari will share the tailback duties, while Nick Kristoff assumes the fullback slot after Derek Kurtz graduated.
Where Westhill’s real offensive strength might be is in the passing game. Mike DeCarr returns for his senior season at quarterback, guaranteed to have a much larger part in the offense with a rocket arm forged by a promising baseball career and big, tempting targets to throw to.
Dan Ross is back at wide receiver, already with two years of varsity experience even though he’s just a junior. With his 6-2 size, speed and superb leaping ability, Ross is nearly impossible to defend one-on-one.
Yet if teams choose to double-team Ross, they’re likely to leave 6-7, 270-pound junior tight end Tom Fisher wide open. Fisher creates enormous match-up problems for any opposing linebacker or defensive back. Also, Chaz Harrison and Nate Nigolian are around to pick up any passes not thrown to Ross or Fisher.
There’s also experience on the offensive line, with David Grace back at center and Ben Johnson returning at right guard. Josh Davoli beefed up from 260 to 300 pounds and will start at right tackle, while Mike Felosi takes over at left guard and Clint Badman (a stark contrast to Davoli at 195 pounds) starts at left tackle.
Westhill could have a terrific defense, too, helped in no small part by the fact that every starting linebacker is back — Grace in the middle, Penizotto and Mascari flanking him. Good as they were for much of last season, they still carry the memory of Cazenovia’s Chris Nourse running over and around them for 281 yards during last year’s sectional final, and are fiercely motivated not to let that happen again.
Up front, sophomore Matt Trendowski steps in to fill the exact same end spot his older brother, Tom, held in recent years. Fisher is an intimidating sight as the Warriors’ other end, while Johnson and Felosi line up at tackle.
Aside from all that he could do on offense, Dan Ross is also a first-rate safety, able to run down and toward any single play. This makes life easier for the rest of the secondary, where DeCarr will also operate after starting as a sophomore, then concentrating on offense as a junior.
To open its ’08 season, Westhill is playing in Sunday’s Kickoff Classic in the Carrier Dome against Bishop Kearney, a tough foe from Rochester. A trip to Oneida follows, and then Class B West action gets underway Sept. 19 against Homer.
With teams like Homer, Marcellus and Skaneateles gunning to end Westhill’s reign atop the league, Griffo said his team’s goals remain high — even if, without Dale Ross, it has to be done with a bit more effort.
“The kids know what it takes to win,” he said. “But (still) this is a brand-new team. And they have to find out their own identity.”