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UMass LB Steve Casali’s goals extend far beyond preseason recognition

  • UMass linebacker Steve Casali, front, breaks up a sideline pass to Mississippi State’s Ashton Shumpert on Sept. 24, 2016 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The fifth-year senior is looking to lead the Minutemen to the postseason this year. J. Anthony Roberts

  • LA Tech receiver Carlos Henderson breaks a tackle by UMass linebacker Steve Casali en route to a 50-yard touchdown reception Oct. 15, 2016. AP



@MattVautourDHG
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Steve Casali didn’t need a spot on the Bronko Nagurski Award watch list to motivate him or to validate his career to this point.

The UMass senior linebacker was recognized by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the Football Writers of America. Both select the Nagurski winner, which goes to the top defensive player in college football.

Casali had a breakout season in 2016 with 105 tackles (including 8.0 for loss) to lead UMass. He forced a fumble and recovered three more to help him earn the preseason recognition. He was one of 29 linebackers on the 103-player list.

But as he readies himself for the fifth and final season of his career, he’s got different goals.

“I feel like I’m a self-motivated guy. I’m focused on working hard and getting wins with the team,” he said. “I’m excited to take that turn building the foundation for this program.”

Casali came aboard when the concrete for that foundation was still being poured. Charley Molnar was still the coach, the games were all at Gillette Stadium and the Performance Center was a blueprint not a building.

Casali remembered listening to Stanley Andre’s advice as a freshman. He finds himself imparting some of that same wisdom to his younger teammates.

“I’ll say something that Stan said and think, ‘I feel old.’” Casali said. “When I was a freshman, I’d think ‘Damn, he’s pretty old.’ Now I’m a redshirt senior. It’s crazy how time flies.

“My official visit back in 2012 feels like yesterday,” he added. “It really flew by. Being a Division I athlete, the days are long, but the weeks fly by.”

The challenge of making UMass competitive in the FBS was harder than he or many older players expected. Casali, who was an all-state player coming out of high school in Long Island, had no regrets about his path.

“If high school me was looking at me today, I feel like high school me would be really proud,” he said. “I’m proud of what I accomplished so far. I want to keep progressing throughout the season. My work ethic started from day one. My parents taught me that. I’ve worked hard every single day since I’ve been here. I’m proud of what that hard work has turned into.”

He’s not done. Despite coming off a 2-10 season, he’d like to add first bowl game to his program pioneer resume.

“That’s a goal I have for my last year here. Make a bowl game. That’s the No. 1 goal to make a bowl game with my teammates,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of wins last year. I feel like I need to do more to get us wins. I need to be more vocal and make more plays to get to a bowl game.”

UMass opens preseason camp July 31 and hosts Hawaii Aug. 26 at McGuirk Stadium.

“We’re excited for camp to start,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we played a football game. I’m really anxious to get back on the field.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage