After reviewing his season, one wonders if Nate Casella could have played every position effectively for Wilde Lake's football team.
What didn't Casella do for the Wildecats this year?
"He's steady, he's reliable and he's a leader," Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall said of Casella, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior who is The Baltimore Sun's Howard County Football Player of the Year. "The kids have looked to him all year to be solid offensively and defensively."
And Casella delivered all year, even as the coaches moved him around like a chess piece.
When he reported to practice in August stronger and quicker than ever, Casella -- a third-year player -- was considered a strong candidate for the team's No. 1 quarterback job. When junior Seth Willingham emerged at that spot, Casella became a tight end, where he caught seven passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns and helped the Wildecats win their first two games, over South Carroll and Dundalk.
A month into the season, DuVall felt the Wildecats needed to solidify their running game. With John Sudduth developing adequately at tight end, DuVall decided to move Casella into the backfield with Mike Green and Donald Gibson. It proved to be his key decision of the year.
Casella, combining blue-collar toughness and exciting, open-field ability, turned Wilde Lake's offense into a powerhouse. In the last six regular-season games, he rushed 83 times for 539 yards and 11 touchdowns. When he wasn't running the ball, Casella was throwing crunching blocks for Mike Green, who owes a significant chunk of his 936 regular-season rushing yards to Casella.
And that only accounts for half of the problems Casella caused. As the left defensive end, Casella usually set the tone for a defense that, during the regular season, allowed only 49 points and recorded six shutouts against county teams.
vTC "He [Casella] is one of the few kids I've had that absolutely never reads off on a fake. He is always around the ball," said Wilde Lake coach Mike Harrison. "He shuts off the outside completely, which is exactly what a defensive end is supposed to do."
By midseason, teams virtually gave up trying to run in his direction. And why bother? Casella recorded 41 solo tackles, 42 assists, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles, blocked four passes, one punt and recorded 18 tackles for losses, including 11 sacks.
Casella's best defensive game came against Southern (Anne Arundel), in the only regular-season game the Wildecats lost. In that 28-27 overtime defeat, Casella was a one-man wrecking crew with nine solo tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
He even punted 11 times for a 40-yard average.
And Casella's toughness defined the Wildecats. When he went down with a leg injury against Mount Hebron in the eighth week, DuVall remembers the feeling on the sideline.
"You could feel a scary sigh go up from the whole team," DuVall said. "We [the coaches] tried not to do that, but we did, too."
True to form, Casella, after missing most of the following week of practice, returned to lead the Wildecats to four-touchdown victories over Glenelg and Hammond. Wilde Lake wrapped up its fourth straight county title.
Teams don't win as many games as Wilde Lake without impressive rosters, and this year's Wildecats were no exception. Willingham and Green formed the heart of the offense. Gibson was the heart of the defense.
6* But Casella was the heart of the team.