by Eric Storms
Talented senior players graduate: It’s part of high school football. Some of the best get injured: It’s part of football in general. But a combined state-best 24-game win streak that withstands it all? That’s something special.
Last year, Westfield’s football team went 12-0 and won their first state championship since 1977. But the departure of many key graduates such as running back Jack Curry, the all-time leading rusher at WHS, cast doubt over hopes of repeating as champions.
Since training camp, the team has only faced more adversity. Senior cornerback Kyle Shirk suffered a season-ending injury early in camp. In September, Matt Varano, the senior running back who stepped in for an injured Curry to score the team’s lone touchdown in the championship, suffered the same fate as Shirk. Weeks later, Ishmael Glasco, the other bruising senior running back (and cornerback), also fell injured for the season. Early in the playoffs the team also lost multi-talented senior wide receiver and kicker Michael Moriarty.
Still, the team has remained undefeated.
“Every time someone has gone down with an injury this season, Coach [Jim] DeSarno has stressed the fact that the whole team has to step up, not just the individual,” Moriarty said. “Our team has been able to do that again and again, which is awesome.”
The underclassmen who have stepped in have been essential to the team’s success.
“They’ve been huge,” said senior defensive end and co-captain Owen Kessler. “Almost all our linebackers and our secondary are underclassman, and they’ve stepped up.”
But what is it about this team that allows them to win no matter who has been on the field? According to Head Coach DeSarno and many of the players, much of it has to do with one mentality.
“We’re a family,” said Jake Vall-Llobera, the junior defensive end who is now also getting carries at running back. “We all support each other.”
After all, the roots of this team run deep.
“We are one town, one team, one family,” said senior offensive lineman Conor Root. “The strength of our bonds as a team goes back 10 seasons for some of us, as we’ve been playing with the same guys since third-grade PAL days.”
The family mindset allows the team to see each other as equals rather than by their positions on the depth chart.
“We don’t believe in that—I don’t believe in that ‘next-man up’ type deal,” DeSarno said. “When guys graduate, it’s someone else’s turn. It’s a new guy; it’s somebody else who’s worked his way up just like the starter before him.”
The seniors have also shown exemplary leadership throughout.
“Each team takes on the personality and the character of your seniors,” DeSarno said. “This group is obviously a resilient group. They’ve had to deal with a lot this year. But they show laser focus, too, that the kids that are healthy aren’t going to let it affect them....This is a really special senior group, that’s for sure.”
Despite being injured, those players have continued to play a role in the team’s success.
“Kyle Shirk got hurt the first week of camp and he’s here every day,” DeSarno said. “The defensive backs see him and know how bad he wants to be out there. Matt got hurt early in the season and he’s here every day, he’s still a captain, he’s still a leader on this team and still cherishes that role.... Mike got hurt [in the quarterfinal] and he’s here every day. Those guys would die to be out there and the rest of the kids know it.”
These players’ passion remains on the field in the minds and hearts of the rest of the team.
Said Root: “Every time we take the field, we’re playing for more than just ourselves as players. We’re playing for Kyle, Matt, Ish and Michael, because they want to be out there with us more than anybody.
“We all have the same goal of bringing the title back to Westfield where it belongs and winning one for this town and our family.”