WESTFIELD, NJ — For the Westfield High School football team and head coach Jim DeSarno, the message is clear: Put last year behind.
DeSarno doesn’t want his players to forget, however.
“We challenged the team to work harder this offseason in preparation for this season,” said DeSarno, who enters his 14th year as Westfield’s head coach. “Put last year behind. Don’t forget how the losses felt, though, and move forward.”
The Blue Devils are in a different place this offseason after coming off a 4-7 season. Westfield had a 37-game winning streak snapped in last year’s opener against Linden. Coincidentally, Linden was the last team to defeat Westfield on Nov. 21, 2014 — before the Blue Devils went on to three straight 12-0 seasons.
And, of course, Westfield opens against the Tigers once again on Sept. 14. The Blue Devils have three straight home games to open the season, facing off against Union and Watchung Hills at Kehler Stadium following the opener against Linden.
“It’s always important to get off on the right foot and we’re excited to be opening up at home,” DeSarno said.
With a program of such rich tradition and history, expectations remain high for Westfield. A 4-7 season is quite rare for the 17-time state champions.
DeSarno said a big emphasis in camp has been conditioning.
“It’s always hot in early September,” the coach noted. “We also need to play faster this year in order to be successful.”
Defensively, DeSarno is still trying to find the right formulas in the secondary.
“We look good up front and are still trying to find the right formula in the back end,” he said. “The group is improving every day.”
Senior defensive end Colin Freer, junior linebacker Dan Shakal and senior linebacker Reid Colwell are three players that have done very well in camp thus far, according to DeSarno.
From an offensive perspective, the Blue Devils should be able to score points. Hank Shapiro, a Lehigh commit, returns for his senior year at quarterback.
Last year, Shapiro finished 111-for-178 for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns. He rushed for another two scores and threw six interceptions.
For his high school career, Shapiro is 212-for-350 for 2,659 yards and 28 passing touchdowns. He has thrown just eight interceptions.
“He will be a three-year starter for us and we will count on him for leadership on and off the field,” DeSarno said.
Shapiro will have weapons around him, too. Nick Martini and Tim Alliegro were two of the main threats in the backfield a season ago. Martini rushed 87 times for 266 yards and Alliegro finished with 74 carries for 285 yards and three TDs. Both guys are seniors are expected to have big seasons.
Then there is senior Griffin Rooney, who made 16 catches for 291 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.
“We’re excited for the experience we return on offense,” DeSarno added. “If we sure ourselves up front we hope to be able to score some points this year.”
Following the three-game homestand, Westfield travels to Elizabeth on Oct. 4 for the first of four straight road games.
Westfield plays at Edison on Oct 11, at Bridgewater-Raritan on Oct. 18 and at Phillipsburg on Oct. 25. The Blue Devils finish the regular season with two home games — against North Brunswick on Nov. 2 and its traditional game against Plainfield on Thanksgiving Nov. 28.