Aug 27, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
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.
Casullo said that Easterly, a lacrosse star committed to Loyola (Maryland), will bring a lacrosse-like mentality to the field, whether by throwing the ball or by taking off on long runs.
But when the Warriors do throw, it’s to an exciting group of receivers. Chase Gedney is back from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of 2013, joining Whipple, Jesse Chester, Galen Hayes and West Genesee transfer Shannon Ford at the wideout spots, while sophomore Casey Rogers could cause a lot of mismatches at tight end.
When Westhill is in a one-back set, Ja’Shai Jamieson will get most of the carries, but when two backs are used, Cody Badman lines up at fullback.
They’ll run behind an offensive line that welcomes back center Crue Colligan from his own 2013 injury issues, along with guard Greg Newton and imposing tackle Will Swartwood. Ian Haumann is at right tackle, with Ramy Guindy and Michael Johnson trying to win the other starting guard spot.
Westhill’s defense features a talented secondary. Burton, the three-sport senior who was part of the unbeaten boys basketball state and Federation Class B championship team, could play at safety or corner, and is also the backup quarterback to Easterly.
Then there’s Cole Murphy, a 5-foot-9, 140-pound dynamo drawing particular praise from Casullo for his work at safety, though he could play anywhere on defense, even on the line. Against bigger players, said Murphy, “I just go as hard as I can.”
That confidence in the defensive backfield can allow the Warriors’ 4-3 front to focus on pressure. Guindy and Gedney start at defensive tackle, with John Schumerhorn a standout at end.
Depending on the play, Haumann and Rogers could play at end or linebacker. Badman anchors the linebacker corps from the middle, with Jamieson set to start on the outside.
Casullo has said that success this season is a sectional championship, which is a high standard. Whether the Warriors can get to that standard will start to get unveiled next Saturday in the Kickoff Classic at the Carrier Dome, when Westhill takes on Fonda-Fultonville.
Following that, it’s on to the Class B West division, which welcomes back Skaneateles after its wild three-year stint in Class C. Westhill hosts the Lakers Sept. 19, right after its trip to face rival Solvay and before key October games against (in order) Marcellus, Chittenango and Homer.
“We want to get back to that winning tradition,” said Whipple.
To get that done, said Casullo, it will require “work ethic, commitment and dedication”, qualities that marked great Warrior teams of the past, and could surface again as Westhill puts all the turmoil behind them and heads back to the gridiron.