SYRACUSE When the Westhill football team’s 2013 season abruptly ended with a 37-0 defeat to Oneida in the first round of the Section III Class B playoffs, no one could have foreseen the sweeping chain of events that would guarantee to make 2014 very different.
To start with, despite a 4-4 mark last fall, Westhill decided not to retain head coach Gary Griffo, who had led the program to sectional titles in 2004 and 2009.
Then, just as the process to replace Griffo started, the entire Westhill community was stunned in March by the death of senior quarterback Reed Derenbacker.
It wasn’t until May that the new coach was chosen – Jamie Casullo. A Cicero-North Syracuse graduate, the 33-year-old Casullo had just spent seven years as a college assistant at SUNY-Albany, and his brother, Rocco, runs a successful program (St. Thomas Aquinas) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Given less than three months to put things together before the start of fall practices, Casullo has managed to win over his players, including senior Donovan Whipple.
“He’s bringing a lot of excitement into the program, and a lot more organization,” said Whipple. “We get a lot more stuff done.”
Another senior captain, Mike Burton, pointed out that Casullo did extensive tape study of his new team, and learned a lot about what worked – and what didn’t.
“He picked out all of our flaws, and (out of that) he wants to create a new culture,” said Burton.
With no small assist from the likes of Burton, Casullo managed to get 27 players out for his debut season, and he said he like the effort they have shown so far.
“They are buying into the system and doing everything I have asked for, and more,” he said.
The new system includes what Westhill hopes will be a potent passing attack, anchored by senior quarterback Richie Easterly, who moves over from wide receiver.