SYRACUSE For the Westhill football team, it had nearly reached the point where a clean sweep of the Class B West division and a run to the Section III championship round was a given.
Yet the 2010 season changed those assumptions. True, the Warriors still shared B West honors with Homer and Marcellus, but the Trojans handed Westhill its first home loss in five years and first league defeat in 14 games during the regular season.
Worse yet, in the Class B opening round Oneida showed up and stunned Westhill 21-6, which was not the ending that 23 Warrior seniors, including the likes of Nathan Nigolian, Jalen Robinson, Mark McAnaney and Matt Trendowski, had in mind.
It marked the first time since 2005 that Westhill had not reached the sectional finals, and getting back there this fall will not be easy, either, according to head coach Gary Griffo.
"We've got our hands full," he said. "We have a lot of young and talented players, but they need varsity experience."
By far, the biggest challenge for the Warriors is in the offensive skill positions, including quarterback, where two young players are vying to replace McAnaney.
A season ago, sophomore Reed Berrenbacher was in the JV ranks, and freshman Rich Easterly was playing modified football. Now one of them will be under center when the Warriors open Sept. 2 at Solvay.
Griffo said both have looked equally good in practice, though Easterly has an edge in varsity sports experience, having played lacrosse for Westhill this past spring.
A bigger challenge may lie at wide receiver, where Nathan Nigolian and Dan Ross dominated in recent years. Alex Peebles and Josh Redman will handle most of the wideout duties, with Jacob Nigolian sharing time at tight end with Dan Gratien.
Westhill is also breaking in a new group of running backs. To replace the departed Jake Files and R.J. Chester, two juniors, Christian St. Amour (already a standout in track and field) and Tyler Hemmes take charge, with Joe Perry in at fullback.