Aug 26, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For three seasons now, the Westhill football team has claimed full custody of the Class B West division, not losing a single league game in that period.
All that’s been missing from the Warriors’ long list of accomplishments in that time period is a Section III title. Both Cazenovia (in 2006 and ’07) and Oneida (in 2008) have kept Westhill from grabbing the championship banner.
To gather more honors in 2009, head coach Gary Griffo must do what he’s managed to do quite effectively in recent years — namely, find new stars after the old ones moved on.
In this case, that means replacing 15 seniors. Five of them — Mike DeCarr, David Grace, Ben Johnson, Mike Mascari and Sam Penizotto — started for three years on the varsity. Griffo said this meant that many good players had to wait their turn to start — until now.
One of those finally getting his chance is senior Jeff Law, a one-time wide receiver who moves to quarterback as DeCarr’s successor. At 5-10 and 160 pounds, Law may not possess DeCarr’s great arm, but Griffo said his variety of skills, especially with rollout passes, makes up for it.
“Jeff might run as much as he throws,” Griffo said. “He has more versatility than any quarterback I’ve had.”
No doubt, Law also benefits from having one of the best group of wide receivers in all of Central New York. Dan Ross is back for his third year as a starter as he, along with Nate Nigolian, serve as the Warriors’ deep threats.
And if Ross and Nigolian are covered, Law won’t have difficulty finding senior tight end Tom Fisher. At 6-6 and 270 pounds, Fisher towers over anyone that could block him, and defenses have to choose whether to double-team Fisher, or make sure Ross and Nigolian are covered.
Good as the passing game could be, Westhill has mostly been defined by dominant, highly productive running backs in this decade, from Joe Casey to Dale Ross to Penizotto. Tyler Nigolian is next in line, taking over for Penizotto at tailback, while Kevin Wilson moves in at fullback, where blocking is crucial.
Wilson might have to block more, since Griffo has to replace his entire offensive line of Johnson, Grace, Jim Wilkins, Mike Filosi and Clint Badman.
At least in the case of senior tackle Josh Davoli (6-5, 280 pounds), the Warriors have a possible star at left tackle, flanked by Josh Wilton (230 pounds) at left guard. Mike Awad is a large center at 250 pounds, with Stephan Olney (6-4, 240 pounds) at right tackle and Matt Trendowski (210 pounds) the new man at right guard.
As part of a 4-3 look on defense, Westhill has a unique pair of ends — the imposing Fisher on one side, John Dillon on the other. Dillon played as a sophomore, then missed the 2008 season to concentrate on lacrosse.
Now, having secured an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, Dillon returns to the gridiron as part of an end rotation that includes Colin Pedrotti and Christian Zadala. Davoli and Dave Chini line up at tackle.
Important as his offensive duties are, Wilson might play a bigger role on defense, taking over at middle linebacker for Grace, the team’s leading tackler each of the last three years. It helps that Trendowski returns at outside linebacker after starting as a sophomore, with Connor Hicks on the other side.
Every team that throws the ball on Westhill has to worry about Ross, an All-Central New York candidate at free safety. He led the Warriors in interceptions in 2007 and ’08.
“He’s got an innate ability to read the quarterback and see where the throw is going,” Griffo said.
Flanking Ross is Tyler Nigolian at free safety (he could also move up to play linebacker), while Nate Nigolian and senior Mike Fagan work at cornerback.
Westhill’s schedule is far from easy. It opens with back-to-back road games at Phoenix and Chittenango, then opens up B West league play at home Sept. 18 against Marcellus, the team most favored to challenge the Warriors. And right in the middle of league play, on Oct. 9, Westhill goes to Oneida, a rematch of last year’s sectional final.
Still, it starts with keeping supremacy in the league, and Griffo said he knows what to expect.
“Everyone’s looking to knock us down,” he said. “Still, if we can stay injury-free, we have a shot to be good again.”
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