Aug 27, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Two bad seasons is far too many, as far as the Westhill football team is concerned.
From the high point of a Section III Class B title earned in 2009, the Warriors fell back to a place where, two years later, everything seemed to go wrong for head coach Gary Griffo and his charges, from injuries to bad penalties to untimely turnovers.
In 2012, Westhill tried to rise again. With a very young lineup, and despite injuries to several key players, the Warriors went 3-4 and sneaked into the fourth and final Section III Class B playoff spot before a first-round defeat to eventual champion Cazenovia.
Now Westhill wants to take the success the school has found in so many other sports – basketball, lacrosse and baseball – and parlay it into a return to gridiron glory.
“The kids bring a winning tradition into the (football) program,” said Griffo. “These kids know how to work hard and they want it pretty bad.”
That hard work included a trip to Syracuse University’s summer camp. Griffo, who coached in Louisiana in the 1980s, said that off-season work, such as the spring football he witnessed down south, sets the tone for the fall to follow.
Reed Derrenbacker injured his knee last fall and missed time at quarterback, forcing sophomore Richie Easterly into a starting role. Now Derrenbacker’s knee has healed and, as a senior, he’s expected to lead the charge forward.
“Reed is an excellent passer and great athlete,” said Griffo. “He can run, too, and has good passing mechanics.”
When the Warriors throw, Derrenbacker has plenty of options to consider. Donovan Whipple, who also missed time in 2012, is back at 100 percent, joining Easterly, senior Jack Centore and sophomore Chase Gedney (son of Syracuse great Chris Gedney) at the receiver spot, while senior captain Brendan Fessinger returns at tight end.
There’s also depth in the backfield. Mike Burton, the team’s first junior captain since Pat McAnaney back in 2002, and senior captain Chris Brusa give the Warriors a pair of tough, imposing backs. And they won’t have to take all the carries, either, since Joe Rainone and Ja-Shai Jamison are capable of stepping in at any time.
Where the Warriors’ biggest concern, literally and figuratively, lies is in the offensive line after the graduation of stalwarts Jordan Hicks and Cory Badman.
The size is at the tackle spots, where 260-pound Greg Newton and 270-pound Eddie Kernan will start. Inside, quickness off the snap will key the work of 200-pound lacrosse star Franco Tangredi at center, along with guards Cody Badman (195 pounds) and Ian Haummann (195 pounds).
Traditionally, Westhill has used a 4-3 defensive alignment. Haummann and Ryan Obrist are both lined up at end, flanking Fessinger and Ramy Guiney at the tackle spots.
Part of the leadership that Burton and Brusa provide is as two-way starters, as both will both start at outside linebacker, with Cody Badman patrolling the middle. Jamison and Centore are at cornerback, with Easterly seeing plenty of action on defense as he joins Tyler King at safety.
Much of the Warriors’ season, said Griffo, might hinge on how well it does in Friday’s opener at Chittenango, who has reached each of the last two sectional finals and won it all in 2011. He added that the team’s work ethic and chemistry gives them a great chance to contend for Class B West division honors, and perhaps more.
“With the amount of work they have done, they’re clicking right now, and that doesn’t happen often at this point in the season,” said Griffo.