Aug 26, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
In recent years, it was rather easy to figure out what would happen in Class B West football — pencil Westhill into first place, then see how everyone else lined up.
Such was the case again in 2009, but with a bonus. The Warriors not only tore through B West with a perfect mark again, it won the Section III championship for the first time since 2004, then made it to the state Class B semifinals before falling to eventual champion Hornell.
So much of that success could be attributed to an unparalleled senior class. Now those 15 players have departed, and that includes mainstays like Dan Ross, Jeff Law, Tom Fisher, Josh Davoli, Tyler Nigolian, Kevin Wilson, Dave Brusa, David Chini and Stephen Olney.
“They were experienced players you could count on,” head coach Gary Griffo said. “They were like coaches on the field. They could break down a team and see what they had, then exploit the (holes) in them.”
The biggest question in 2010 is whether the Warriors can repeat its league and sectional honors. Griffo said it’s not known at this point whether all of his current players have the same kind of devotion and willingness to sacrifice that Ross, Law, Divoli and company possessed in spades.
But there’s still a lot of talent around, which gives quarterback Mark McAnaney some options. The senior takes over for Law under center, and Griffo is confident in McAnaney’s abilities.
“He’s a great athlete and he’ll come through for us,” Griffo said.
Westhill could have as many as five running backs to replace Tyler Nigolian. Among them is senior Matt Trendowski, who moves over from the offensive line to give Westhill a big (6-1, 210 pounds) presence in the backfield. Jake Files, R.J. Chester, Dylan Krell and Colin Pedrotti give the Warriors further options, though the starting combination remains a mystery.
There’s no mystery as to where the ball will be thrown. Nathan Nigolian is one of the most decorated athletes in Westhill sports history, a member of three state championship teams (one in basketball, two in baseball), and he’s also one of the area’s top receivers, with a chance to really shine now that Ross has departed.
If opponents double-team Nigolian, that could leave another basketball standout, Justin Biles, open for big plays, with Joe Snyder and Alex Peebles close behind. With the big, imposing Fisher gone at tight end, top defender Jalen Robinson takes over.
Davoli will be dearly missed on the offensive line, as will Olney and Chini. And Trendowski’s move to the backfield means that Josh Wilson, at left guard, is the lone returning starter on the front. Chris Lawton slides in at right guard, with 270-pound Mike Awad and Mike Brusa at the tackle spots and Ned Barnes taking over at center.
Westhill still could pack a defensive wallop. Out front in the 4-3 alignment, Robinson is drawing attention from Division I colleges for his quickness and agility off the ball. Griffo said he expects Robinson to be double-teamed all year, which could give fellow end Pedrotti, plus tackles Andrew Torak and Carson Hicks, space to pounce.
Trendowski begins his third year as a starter at middle linebacker, long a strength of the Warrior defense. Files returns at outside linebacker, while Connor Hicks, at 6-2 and 192 pounds, moves up from the secondary to add even more pop.
No player could possibly match the 27 interceptions Ross accumulated in his four years anchoring the Warrior secondary. Still, Biles and junior Jacob Nigolian make for a capable pair of safeties while Nathan Nigolian returns at cornerback, paired with Chester.
And that’s not the only place where Chester makes an impact. As a kicker, Chester gives Westhill a scoring threat any time it gets inside an opponent’s 30-yard line.
In last November’s 41-14 win over Johnson City in the Class B regional final, Chester smacked a 42-yard field goal and also kicked four consecutive touchbacks, constantly pinning Johnson City deep in its own territory.
Westhill begins this season plunging into deep waters Friday night when it hosts Vernon Verona Sherrill, with most of its starters back and out to avenge a 37-7 playoff semifinal loss in ’09. Then it’s a Sept. 10 trip to Marcellus, also seeking revenge after the Warriors topped them twice last season, including 37-22 in the sectional finals at the Carrier Dome.
“It will be a great test to tell where we are,” Griffo said.