It’s a word that football coaches across America use to describe an aggressive style of running. It’s a prompt to rush forward as if the edge of the world has fallen off, and all that remains is the absence of gravity, a lowered shoulder and the soft cushion of a crumbling opponent.
“Downhill” is the only way UMass commit Steve Casali knows how to run. With an almost-mechanical stride, the Sachem East product has made a career out of barreling over Long Island football players. As a running back, he frequently stormed past linebackers en route to a mismatched collision with an out-of-place safety. At linebacker, Casali was magnetically drawn to the ball – in the flats, over the middle and in the backfield.
His style – his tendency to run “downhill” – has UMass fans intrigued. However, the 6’2, 220-pound athlete has been generally overlooked by the national recruiting sites. Neither Scout or Rivals have created a page for Casali, and 247 Sports has a sparse profile. Aside from a few local articles, there isn’t too much out there about a kid who has already accumulated enough football trophies to fill a freshman dorm room.
It may be that Long Island doesn’t produce many Division I football players. It could be because Casali, and his competition, don’t get enough respect. Either way, the lack of attention has given a little motivation to a kid that already plays with a mean streak.
“Yeah it’s a big motivator because some people think Long Island is a joke when it comes to football, but we do have some great athletes,” said Casali, who broke 18 Sachem East football records during his career.
This past year, Casali won the Hansen Award, which is presented to the top football player in the Suffolk County. He also won the Bob Collotta Award for top linebacker, the Joe Cipp Jr. Award winner for top running back, the Rob Burnett Long Island Defensive Player of the Year and the Suffolk County Division I MVP. He was also the co-MVP of the Suffolk County Division I championship.
Despite suffering an in-season injury, Casali ran for 1,915 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with a team-leading 104 tackles.
He is a throwback Northeast football player.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Casali came into his own under coach Mark Wojciechowski (or “Woj”), a Sachem East graduate who took a similar path. Wojciechowski won the Hansen Award in 1985 and then went to UMass, where we won two Yankee Conference Championships in 1986 and 1988. He would tell Casali about his times in Amherst, and Casali liked what he heard.
“He said it was a great experience, and he is happy that I’m going there, too,” Casali said. “He is still friends with a lot of the guys that he played next to, and that shows me that the team was a family, just like the one here at Sachem.”
The jump from high school football to college is tough for any athlete, and Casali knows he has to put in the work if he wants to compete right away. He said he plans on using some of the lessons learned from his time at Sachem East.
“I know it’s going to be a big step, but I’m working hard because I want to play a role on the team,” he said. “Coach Woj has taught me that you can’t be successful without a great work ethic and a great attitude, and I’m still carrying that when I come to UMass. I want to play a role where I make a impact for the team. I play with a chip on my shoulder, and that’s how I will always play. I can’t wait to get up there and start up my college career.”
Like several other recruits, Casali said that the coaching staff was a major reason for his commitment. Casali also wants to major in Sport Management and was impressed with UMass’ Isenberg School of Management.
He added that there was a comfortable feeling when he was around current members of the team.
“My favorite part about UMass is how the team is like a family. They are always hanging with each other, and that’s how Sachem is,” Casali said. “The campus is awesome, and so are the academics. I just felt really comfortable when I first visited the campus.”
Part of the family will be running back Stacy Bedell, a Long Island native who Casali faced off against during his junior season. Bedell, who played at William Floyd High School, a division rival of Sachem East, shared the 2011 Hansen Award with Dalton Crossan of Sachem North High School last year. Crossan currently playing running back for the University of New Hampshire.
“I do know Stacey , he’s a great player,” Casali said.
Despite a lack of national fanfare, people in the know understand that Casali is a high caliber recruit both on and off the field. One source, speaking anonymously, told the Maroon Musket that “Casali is the best recruit in (UMass’) 2013 class. He’s a beast, and he will be really good in Amherst.”
Perhaps his most glowing endorsement comes from Coach Woj, who, above all, is a Sachem East guy.
“You’re not going to come across many like him in your life,” he told the Sachem Report. “He’s a special kid. He’s 10 times a better football player than I ever was. I hope kids in our program look up to him. He’s carried himself in such a way that he’s a great role model for all our kids.”
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