By Phil Stacey
---- — He’ll pull on his shoulder pads, strap on his helmet and ready himself for battle on the gridiron one final time tomorrow night.
After that, whenever Casey Guerrero readies himself for battle on the field, he’ll do so without pads or a helmet — but he’ll be subject to just as much physicality and brute force as during his football days.
The Middleton resident, who is suting up for the North squad in tomorrow’s 52nd annual Harry Agganis All-Star Football Classic (7 p.m.) at Manning Field in Lynn, will be playing organized football for the last time. He’ll be headed off to college at West Virginia University in two months, where his sport of choice will be rugby.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” said the 6-foot-4, 255-pound lineman from Masconomet Regional, on playing his football finale tomorrow night. “The practices have been great, meeting guys from other towns and messing around with them. And certainly, it’s nice to be honored and play in a game like this.
“Rugby has a lot of similarities with football. I’m in the pack in the second row, and that’s pretty much all legs and drive forward — our scrum against their scrum, just like playing on the line (in football). And the tight bond you develop with the guys is a lot alike, too.”
A two-way tackle that his teammates called ‘Chief’, Guerrero was one of the leaders on the line that guided Masconomet to the Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League Tier 1 championship last fall. Tomorrow night, he’ll take his spot at left tackle for the North.
“He’s a very good athlete,” said Masconomet head coach Jim Pugh, “but because of his size and weight, he’s always played the line. But Casey’s got great feet and hands and has a lot of talent.
“As a junior, he played defensive tackle and surprised us by the space he took up and the impact he made. This past season he started playing on both sides of the ball and developed into someone we’d look to run the ball behind on big plays, or he could get out and run on screen plays. He’d also draw double teams and allow our linebackers to come in and make plays (defensively). Casey was a go-to guy for us.”
An only child, Guerrero will be the third former Masconomet football player to head to Morgantown, W. Va. for college; Steve Sosenko (who just graduated from WVU with a 4.0 grade point average, said Pugh) and Anthony DiBenedetto are others.
As someone who began playing Peabody Youth Football in third grade (before moving to Middleton four years later), Guerrero figured he’d give it a shot in college. He considered Endicott, Western New England and Curry before deciding that West Virginia was his best option, both financially and athletically.
He played rugby for the first time this past year and helped the Essex County Bulldogs win a U-19 state championship. Playing with Chieftains football teammates such as Mac and Austin Cashin as well as Mike McKay, Guerrero said he loved everything about the sport.
“I really got into it and had a blast,” said the 18-year-old Guerrero. “We lost our first two games before winning the rest, including the championship. We were a big team and won most of the scrums, and we had a lot of really good backs, too.
“After every game, we say three chants for the team we just played, regardless of how chippy the game was, and they do it back to us. Then both teams would go out and have pizza afterwards.”
Guerrero admitted that after his team lost to Everett High in the state playoffs last fall, he thought his football career might be over. He’s extremely grateful that he was wrong.
“It’s real nice to be back out there,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to react (tomorrow), but I’m going to make the most of it. It’s something I’ll be telling my kids about someday.”