It was early and it was hot, but Pelham and Westlake got some important work done out on the field at Westlake High School this morning. The Wildcats return a slew of experienced seniors lead by Super 11 selection OL/DL Tommy Hopkins, while the Pelicans are led by fellow Super 11 selection FB/NG Jon Miller, but will have a tough time this year with low numbers as only 16 players were in uniform this morning.
• The Wildcats line is strong on both sides of the ball, led by Hopkins, who will play at UConn next year. C Mark Polak, OT/DT Mike Manzo G/DT Pete DiNota and G/DE James Grieco — all seniors — should aid Hopkins in forming one of the top lines in Class B. They opened up gaping holes offensively, and provided stellar penetration defensively, often times stopping Miller cold before he reached the line of scrimmage. “I think we did a good job today,” the soft-spoken Hopkins said. “Everyone did their job, everyone did their responsibilities.”
• The defensive line’s penetration opened up lanes for linebackers to swarm to the ball. Anytime Miller had the ball it seemed he had at least two or three hats on him. “We preach 11 men to the ball — everyone get there,” said coach Rich Hennessy.
• HB Dan Bassi led a ground attack that moved the ball at ease at times against the Pelicans defense. Westlake was able to pick up chunks of yardage and move the chains, despite the presence of Miller, who was doubled on many plays. With the line providing healthy-sized holes FB Jake Carpenter was free to barrel into whoever he wanted to, which allowed Bassi to get to the next level. “To see Jake from junior to senior year, he’s anther player,” said Hennessy. “It’s like a guard pulling.” The Wildcats will need more of the same next Friday against Lourdes, whose line will be much bigger than Pelham’s.
• According to Hennessy, the majority of the team was in the weight room a few weeks after their last game last season. Hopkins and Carpenter were two players he specifically said were gym rats this offseason. Hopkins apparently put on 20 pounds since the end of basketball season.
• New QB Mike Ragusa didn’t look new at all — “You can’t really get nervous,” he said. “You just need to be confident and know the offseason work will help you.” A huge offensive line certainly helps, he said.
• Hennessey talked about how Ragusa has avoided the typical early season struggles (botched snaps, fumbles on handoffs, etc…) that plaque first-time players. Even though he has a strong running game to back him up, Ragusa looked good during the team’s two-minute drill, and connected with TE/LB Anthony Rotunno for a 54-yard pass earlier in the day. I didn’t see any turnovers from the junior, who definitely looks ready for opening night.
• In all, the Wildcats are a team to keep an eye on. With a talented line, shifty and powerful backs, and smart quarterback play, Westlake has a chance to make some noise. Of course people will jump to conclusions following their first game against Lourdes, but like Hennessey said he told his guys, “Week one is week one. You need to hope you see them again later in the year.”
• As I mentioned before, the Pelicans are dealing with limited personnel so many of their problems stem from that issue. Coach Justin Longobardi spoke to his guys about the difference of speed between playing against JV and varsity guys, so it was a good experience for the Pelicans. “It’s more difficult to get a look in practice, but we’re going to do the best that we can,” Longobardi. “We’re going to play as hard as we can and go forward.”
• The Pelicans did have some success up front defensively, led by Miller at nose guard. When he was able to get the push he’s capable of, the Pelicans were able to stuff the run and he was able to collapse the Westlake pocket on more than one occasion, including one sack that I saw. “He’s like a man amongst boys out there,” Longobardi said. “He’ll get to the football, he’s hungry for it.”
• Offensively, the Pelicans’ front line had trouble with the Westlake defensive front. Whenever Miller or HB Aakiel Anthony touched the ball, they were met by a swarm of Wildcats. Miller fumbled on one play as a result of being taken down by a gang of players. “I kind of like the challenge because three of them have to take me down,“ Miller said. “Sometimes the play has to be (whistled) dead because they can’t take me down.” Still in order to keep Miller healthy, and provide protection in the passing game, the Pelicans need to see a big improvement up front.
• Overall it might be a tough year for the Pelicans considering the number of players they have, and it doesn’t get any easier for them as they open up next weekend against Poughkeepsie. Still watching Miller play will be a treat for Section 1 fans, and the team should only improve as the year goes on, something they intend to do. “We definitely have a lot of work to do,” said Longobardi. “So we’re going to get back tomorrow and on Monday we’ll start again.”