Rich Hennessy was named head coach in 2005, but coached at Westlake even prior to that.
“I’ve never had this many seniors,” he said.
In fact, best he can remember, it hasn’t even been close. The Wildcats boast a roster of a whopping 18 seniors, which would be a pretty strong number for a Class AA school, let along a Class B program that was in C just a few years ago.
Those seniors form the core of this year’s team, but, as you probably guessed, they were the core of last year’s team, too. Westlake went just 3-6 a season after reaching the Class B final. Their inexperience cost them in a year with just five seniors.
The 2012 Wildcats return starters galore on both sides of scrimmage. That includes four starting linemen who are all seniors: OT/DT Tommy Hopkins; OT/DT Mike Manzo; C/G/DT Pete DiNota; and G/DE James Grieco. The fifth starting lineman is Mark Pollack, a senior G/DE who played center against Croton-Harmon back in 2010 but saw time as a FB last season.
The skill positions are stocked with returning players as well. Senior RB Danny Bassi rushed for over 800 yards last season, including 360 yards and four TDs in a win over Putnam Valley. Senior FB/LB Jake Carpenter and TE/LB Anthony Rotunno will help clear paths. The backs will be paired with four senior at WR: Rob Tocco, J.C. Zangrilli, Richie Maio and Mike McLynn.
The receivers will likely compete for opportunities, but the man throwing them the ball will not. Junior QB Mike Ragusa has claimed the position and will be called on to replace the team’s top senior, John D’Onofrio.
Hennessy said Ragusa was “confident” and “competitive.” He’ll need those traits while trying to lead a team of upperclassmen.
“We need a guy like who’s able to take charge of that group,” Hennessy said.
With Pollack, Greco, Hopkins and Manzo up front; returning LBs Rotunno and Carpenter; and DBs Tocco, Zangrilli, Maio and senior Nick O’Halloran, the defense is equally loaded with experience. One new face is an old name at Westlake: sophomore Christian DeBiase. The seventh of eight DeBiase boys is in competition for a starting spot on the defensive line. (Yes, you read that right…eight boys!)
How much all this experience means to Westlake will be known immediately. The Wildcats travel to Class B contender Our Lady of Lourdes for their season opener on Friday night, under the lights.