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.