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March 29, 2011
Westlake phenomenon could be next D-I Wolverine
Michael Westray, do best?Looking for a simple, straightforward answer, a reporter posed a simple, straightforward question to Ayo Ogunniyi, the second half of Westlake's vaunted cornerback duo. What, the reporter wanted to know, did Ogunniyi's secondary-mate,
Turns out the question wasn't so simple after all.
Ogunniyi paused for a few seconds. Then he got out a few inaudible utterances. Finally, he shrugged.
What does Michael Westray do best?
Westray, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior, was indeed "Mr. Everything" for the Wolverines last year. The all-conference standout excelled at no less than five different positions, which is a lot even for high school, where players are rarely locked into one position.
"Some guys come out and they're just corners or just safeties," said Westlake coach Dom Zaccarelli. "But Mike can fit into any system because of his flexibility. He's a tremendous athlete."
Westray's numbers weren't gaudy last year, but they included a unique array of statistics. He was a cornerback with sacks, a linebacker with pass defenses, a safety with rushing yards and a running back with receptions.
"Playing all those positions benefitted me in so many ways," Westray said. "I'll be ready to play anywhere at the next level."
Pigeonholing Westray would do him a disservice. That said, many believe he's special at cornerback. Along with Ogunniyi last year, Westlake formed a tandem that was death to passing games. You could count on one hand the number of receptions the two allowed.
But while Ogunniyi was more of a prototypical high school corner (read: under 6-feet, fast, pesky), Westray's dynamic skills put him a step above.
"It's hard to find big corners that can run," Zaccarelli said. "It gives him certain advantages the typical 5-foot-9 guy doesn't have. He can play man-to-man coverage, he can press up near the line and he can be physical. If you watch a running back try to get to the outside, he'll square up and just lay into you."
The latter comment is why Westray and a few of his teammates consider safety -- not corner -- his best position. With his size, speed and penchant for pain, Westray's a natural run stuffer.
"If you come at him, he's going to destroy you," said Westlake senior receiver/defensive back Antonio Hale. "If you're a running back, you'd better be scared."
Ogunniyi doesn't hesitate to compare his friend to Roy Williams in his prime: a big, physical strong safety who practically patented the term "horse-collar tackle." It's an apt comparison considering Westray's most memorable play was a monstrous hit that resonated with players and coaches alike.
In Week 2 against eventual-state-champion McDonough, Westray lined up at cornerback as the Rams crept inside the red zone. On first down, running back Justin Brooks took a quick pitch and sprinted to the outside.
The play seemed to set up perfectly. Brooks had lanes open and blockers in front of him, including a receiver, who locked down on Westray. But just as Brooks turned upfield, Westray fought through the block, fired forward and laid an anvil-like hit on him.
Immediately after the play, Westray, an emotional, intense competitor, reared his head back and let out a primordial scream. The early-season outcry seemed to announce his arrival in banner style.
"After that play, I knew he could be something special," Zaccarelli said. "He lifted that kid right off his feet and planted him. When a guy can react that quick and then come up and hold a guy to no gain, especially coming off a block, that's not typical."
The way the coach was talking you'd think Westray was a Wolverines mainstay. But last year was just his first season on varsity. Westray spent his first two seasons on the jayvee, despite having played football since his elementary school days.
The problem? Westray didn't have near the chiseled 6-2, 185-pound frame he sports today. Couldn't hit, couldn't read and couldn't run a 4.5 40-yard dash (his best time), either.
"I was a late bloomer," Westray said. "Ever since I got here my freshman year I've been working hard to reach the potential I knew I had. But it just took me to my 11th grade year to realize it."
Zaccarelli always knew Westray had talent. But he noticed a distinct uptick in desire last summer. (Of course, the four-inch growth spurt didn't hurt.)
"He's a young man who listened and worked hard," the coach said. "He soaked up everything we said; he didn't want to disappoint his coaches."
Now, just two year removed from the junior varsity, Westray has been dubbed Westlake's No. 1 recruit. Which bodes well for him, especially considering the Wolverines have produced a Division-I player in each of the last three seasons.
"He has definite D-I potential," said Hale, who is heading to I-AA Delaware State next year. "With his ability and work ethic, he can go anywhere."
Westray does have legitimate interest from top-level schools, but that doesn't guarantee anything. He isn't naïve; Westray knows he'll need another big year to convince programs to take a chance on him.
"I think I can surprise a lot of people," Westray said. "I'm working harder then ever before to reach my goal."
Zaccarelli has complete confidence in him. The longtime coach, who knows talent when he sees it, believes Westray could rank among the best prospects in school history.
That sparked one last question from a reporter. Just where, the reporter wanted to know, will a guy like Michael Westray end up?
"He can play pretty much anywhere in the country," Zaccarelli deadpanned. "And who knows? With the way he works, he might even be an All-American one day."
Let the record show: Zaccarelli didn't hesitate.