WESTFIELD — The 2017 season didn’t go as planned for quarterback Jake Cassidy and the Westfield State football team. The Owls dropped their first five games and struggled to stay afloat in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, finishing the season 3-7. But with a new season starting Friday night, Cassidy and the Owls are optimistic that 2018 will bring them better fortune.
Westfield ended last season with a 18-0 shutout win over Western Connecticut State, a victory that saw Cassidy give the Owls an early lead with a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The victory gave the Owls a boost of confidence as they gear up for this fall’s campaign.
“I personally think we stepped up,” said Cassidy, now entering his junior season. “Once the midseason hit, everyone knew each other, everyone knew the patterns we were supposed to run. We got used to our defensive coordinator, the defense stepped up. Our last game we played one of the best teams in the conference and we handled them pretty well. I think that boosted our confidence heading into this season.”
Cassidy, a Swampscott resident, attended St. Mary’s before transferring to Lawrence Academy after his sophomore year. While at St. Mary’s, he played two seasons of varsity football for former Spartans coach Matt Durgin. Cassidy said he developed a great relationship with Durgin and the late Michele Durgin, the dean of students at St. Mary’s. Michele, Matt’s sister, died in February of last year.
“I really respect the Durgin family for everything they’ve done,” Cassidy said. “They taught me how to be a leader. I never got the chance to say that to Michele Durgin. She was very impactful in my life and always had great things to say about me. I wish I got to tell her that before she passed. Coach Durgin helped me become a leader. He taught me a lot.”
At Lawrence Academy, Cassidy played quarterback and cornerback for three years. He committed to play college football at St. Anselm, where he spent his freshman season, and transferred to Westfield before the 2017 campaign.
He started eight games under center for the Owls last season.
“I think last year was a big learning curve for me,” Cassidy said. “It was my first year playing as a college quarterback. I didn’t know what to expect. I was playing with new teammates and new coaches. There are things that I want to improve on, like my accuracy. Other than that, football’s football. I’m lucky to say I’m a college football player and I get to represent the school in that aspect.”
Now that he’s no longer the “new guy” at Westfield, Cassidy’s looking to take on an expanded role since he’s more comfortable as Westfield’s signal-caller.
“I want to become more vocal,” said Cassidy, who is a business major with a concentration in finance. “Now that it’s my second year, I feel I can use my voice a little more. The quarterback’s supposed to be vocal. Last year, I didn’t want to cross any lines being the new guy. Now that I know everybody I feel I can be more vocal. The coaches have done a great job preparing us for everything physical. It’s all mental at this point.”
Westfield started its preseason camp a few weeks ago. Cassidy said the Owls look sharp and confident heading into the new season.
“Things are looking awesome,” Cassidy said. “A lot of people are stepping up. We’re picking up where we left off, which not a lot of teams can say. We’re returning our offensive line and running backs. We have new receivers. We have great captains pushing us and letting us know what’s at stake. Everything’s going great this preseason. Everyone’s stepping up.
“I think our morale and confidence is higher than ever right now because we know we can compete with the best teams in the conference. There’s no reason we can’t compete with the best teams in the league. Our confidence is very high, we just have to avoid mental mistakes.”
Westfield kicks off the new season under the lights Friday night at 7 with a non-conference tilt against Nichols.
“We’re all amped up,” Cassidy said. “It’s all we’ve been talking about. Right after our most recent scrimmage, we moved right onto Nichols. They’re a pretty good team. Now it counts. It’s a game that’s going to go for us or against us. We’re all ready to go.”