All season, Ben Castellano got the call when the Traip Academy football team needed a tough one or two yards. He was the player opponents asked their defenses to stop, and he was the guy they designed their offense to avoid.
So it was no surprise when Western Class C coaches handed Castellano the John Taglienti Award as the region’s player of the year.
No surprise, that is, until you realize Castellano is a lineman.
And at 5-foot-11, 270 pounds, he’s rather well suited for the job.
On offense, he played right tackle, helping the Rangers roll up 9,000 rushing yards in his three years as a starter. On defense he played tackle, typically lining up across from an opponent’s best lineman.
Traip (8-2) outscored opponents by a gaudy 284-39 before falling to Winslow 7-0 in the regional semifinals. On defense, Castellano recorded 49 tackles and 11 sacks, forced five fumbles and recovered five others.
One other number to keep in mind: For most of the season the Rangers played with just 18 players.
CATALYST FOR CHANGE
“Ben has the heart of a lion and goes as hard as he can on every play,” said running back Corey Aldecoa, who rushed for 1,562 yards this fall. “He can move pretty fast for a guy his size. When he bowls over a couple of people, it’s a lot easier to read the field.”
Castellano, a 2011 All-State selection, is the first Traip player to win the Taglienti since quarterback Chris McKeen in 1991.
“It’s nice to be recognized, especially as a lineman,” said Castellano. “But it’s really a team award. Someone could be the best player in the state but if he doesn’t have a good team around him, he can only go so far, only look so good.”
He said plenty of credit goes to the line play of right guard Nick Ovington, center Joey Harty, left guard Tucker Gray and left tackle Dan Eddy.
True, but the Rangers’ success started three years ago with Castellano, according to Coach Ron Ross. His commitment was the catalyst for change.
“Between his freshman and sophomore year, he started working out hard,” Ross said. “The kids saw the success he was having. Everyone else wanted a piece of that pie. They’ve been working out together, running together, and they became a pretty close bunch.”
After going 3-5 as freshmen in 2009, Traip’s current seniors went 6-3 in 2010 and 8-3 in 2011, when they reached the regional final. Then came this season’s torrid run.
“It’s pretty much been a credit to Ben,” said Ross, who took the unusual step of naming Castellano captain as a junior. “He decided he wanted to give 100 percent to (the team), and he brought some people with him.”
His quiet intensity has inspired teammates.
“Ben’s an all-business type of guy,” Aldecoa said. “It’s just crazy how hard the kid works. It made us all want to work hard, too. We didn’t have a lot of kids. All we had was each other. And we just had to improve each week. He doesn’t joke around a lot. When Ben laughs, everyone’s at ease.”
Castellano brought a smile to teammates in the regular-season finale against Sacopee Valley. He carried three times for 13 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run in a 61-8 victory.
‘THE REAL DEAL’
Mike Siviski just finished his 28th season as coach at Winslow, which lost to Foxcroft Academy in the Class C state final Saturday. He said he’s seen some great players, including Lewiston’s Gerry Raymond, who in 1977 became the only lineman to win the Fitzpatrick Trophy. Raymond then went on to Boston College and the pros.
“Castellano is the real deal. I think he could be an outstanding college guard,” Siviski said. “You have to give him special attention to even to have a chance against Traip.”
Siviski put two of his best players, Aaron Lint, the defending state Class C heavyweight wrestling champion, and Brock Deschaine, another Taglienti Award nominee, across from Castellano in their playoff game.
“When a team puts two defensive players on an offensive lineman, that tells you something,” Ross said. “That didn’t take Ben out of the game but it did force us go away from him.”
Castellano hopes to play in college, perhaps at a school in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“There was a time at Traip when kids came in and worked their hardest and nobody noticed,” Ross said. “It’s nice to see them recognized for their hard work now.”