With his uniform stained by blood, mud and grass or his arms and legs bearing turf burns after every game, Steven Casali is the personification of a throwback, two-way player who rarely leaves the field. Whether it's lugging the football 30 times a game or making a dozen tackles from his linebacker slot, Casali literally throws himself into his work.
"I just love the game," the 6-2, 220-pound bruiser from Sachem East said. The game loves him back, as his exploits have earned him a scholarship to play linebacker at Division I Massachusetts next year.
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Locally, everyone seemed to love Casali's performance in his senior season. He rushed for 1,896 yards, averaged 8.0 yards per carry, scored 20 touchdowns, made 104 tackles, knocked down 10 passes, played a key role in perhaps the most dramatic game played on the Island this season, and won an unprecedented four major awards at Monday night's's Suffolk County Football Coaches Association dinner at the Hyatt in Hauppauge.
His hardware collection now includes the prestigious Hansen Award, presented annually by Newsday to the most outstanding player in Suffolk County; the Bob Collotta Award as the county's top linebacker; the Joe Cipp Award as the county's top running back; and the new MSG Varsity Rob Burnett Award for being the defensive player of the year on Long Island.
"Without a doubt, he's the best player I've ever coached. Not only that, he's a great, great kid," Sachem East coach Mark Wojciechowski said. "He's the first kid to compliment everyone else and say that the other team was very good. He gets embarrassed with all the attention. That's what makes him so special. He is that kid. They don't come around that often."
Casali had numerous games that cemented his Hansen status. In a key regular-season, 25-17 victory at Longwood, Casali rushed for 289 yards and three touchdowns, made 14 tackles and forced three fumbles.
In an 18-7, first-round playoff victory at Northport, Casali gained 131 of his 177 yards in the second half and added 12 tackles. The following week, he carried a remarkable 44 times for 237 yards and two touchdowns as Sachem East scored on the final play for a shocking 33-28 upset at top-seeded Connetquot.
Casali somehow had enough energy to run around the field, hugging and hoisting teammates, especially quarterback Danny Wolff and receiver Ryan Dippel, who hooked up for the winning touchdown pass.
"I love these guys," he said. "I'm speechless."
Others were more vocal. After Floyd eliminated Sachem East, 61-27, in the Suffolk I final, winning coach Paul Longo was so mesmerized by Casali's 272-yard, 39-carry performance that he made a special point of pulling No. 5 aside during the traditional postgame handshake.
"I told him, 'You're not just a great player, but I like the way you handle yourself,' " Longo said. "There's never any trash-talking or staring anyone down. Just a hard-nosed player and a tremendous role model. He's definitely one of the best two-way players I've ever coached against."
Casali, a middle linebacker who roams from sideline to sideline, has a nose for the ball, closing speed and, naturally, is a ferocious hitter. As a tailback, he can outmuscle or outrun defenders. "I'm a big guy and they don't think I can run fast," said Casali, who has been clocked at 4.55 in the 40.
Hard to believe that such a dangerous power back may have carried the football for the last time in his career; but UMass likes him as a linebacker.
"I'll play either side of the ball, but I like defense better,'' Casali said. "I love to hit people."
That's no surprise to his teammates, who tease the player they've nicknamed 'The Beast' for his modesty and his intensity.
"His practice jerseys tend to get ripped. And he wears shirts without sleeves," Wojciechowski said. "If there's one thing our team can do, it's have fun. If that means making fun of our best kid, so be it. 'We'll give you the extra $2; go buy some shirts with sleeves.' We're always on him. Of course, no one goes too far. They've seen him get mad."
So have his opponents.