Tom Casey of Leavitt Area High School wraps up Hayden Henriksen of York at the line of scrimmage during a Sept. 2019 game in Turner. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Tom Casey hasn’t hit anybody holding a pigskin in awhile, and like any good linebacker worth his shoulder pads, it’s causing him some withdrawals.

But the Leavitt Area High School senior is very thankful he didn’t withdraw from a campus visit to Springfield College, because it’s exactly the “family” that will help him attain his athletic and career dreams.

A three-year, two-way starter for the Hornets and dominant linebacker on their 2019 Class C state championship team, Casey emerged from the unprecedented recruiting journey in the age of  COVID-19 and announced that he has committed to Springfield, a Division III school in Springfield, Massachusetts, to play football next fall.

Casey chose Springfield over two other finalists, Husson University and University of New England, because the program’s family-oriented, blue-collar ethos reminded him of Leavitt.

“They’re a hard-working program and they’re big on family,” Casey said. “Their motto is ‘brotherhood,’ which I like a lot because I relate to that with Leavitt. That’s how close-knit we all are together.”

Springfield nearly missed out on welcoming Casey to the family because of the obstacles that COVID-19 restrictions have placed in front of him and all recruits.

“It was definitely tough,” Casey said of the process. “We had a hard time trying to find a time to visit because they were closed for so long because they’re in Massachusetts. I actually wasn’t planning on visiting there just because of that reason. But I went through with it and my perception of them just totally changed.”

“When I went on the campus visit there, they did such a good job and showed they were really organized,” he said. “All the players there, you could just tell that they were like a family. I really liked the way that they conducted themselves and the way the tour went. That was definitely a big game-changer for me.”

Springfield announced in July that it would not have intercollegiate athletics for the Fall 2020 semester due to the coronavirus. The Pride finished 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) in 2019. Mike Cerasuolo, a former tight ends and offensive line coach at the University of Maine, is in his fifth year as the head coach.

Tommy Casey of Leavitt Area High School reacts after a touchdown catch during 7-on-7 football in October in Turner. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Springfield coaches envision Casey, who is 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, playing linebacker, a position where he has been consistently among the best in the state since entering the starting lineup as a sophomore.

“There’s nothing better than being able to make tackles all over the field, which is what I love to do. I’ve just grown to love playing linebacker,” said Casey, who also started on the offensive line since he was a sophomore.

“I think defensively he probably fits what they’re trying to do,” Leavitt football and basketball coach Mike Hathaway said. “He’s certainly a guy that’s into the weight-room part of it and the leadership part of it, doing things the right way. That’s the way he operates and that’s the way Coach Cerasuolo runs his ship.”

Springfield football has a number of Maine connections. Former Leavitt star and 2011 Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Jordan Hersom played there before transferring to Husson. The current roster boasts a quartet of Mainers: former Marshwood star Kyle Glidden, former Kennebunk star Joseph Bush, and Zach Klein and Christian Napolitano of Bonny Eagle.

“I think it’s going to be a good fit for Tommy,” Hathaway said. “Springfield’s a pretty athletic-minded school, and certainly athletics has always been a big focus in Tommy’s life. I think it’s a good match in that regard, and football-wise, it’s a program that prides itself in the weight room and the preparation piece of it, and I know Tommy really appreciates that piece of it. I think he’ll be with a lot of guys that think like him. It’s a blue-collar type of atmosphere and I think he’ll like it.”

Casey’s father, Pete, had a major influence on his life and was a Hornets football assistant when he died in his sleep a day before Leavitt hosted Fryeburg Academy in the 2018 Class C South championship game during Tom’s sophomore year.

Tom said his late father would appreciate Springfield’s hard-nosed, blue-collar approach to the gridiron.

“I think he’d definitely like it,” he said. “It’s definitely his type of football. They like to get stuff done down there. They’re hard-working. They like to compete, and they just get at it a lot. That’s why he loved the game so much. I think he’d definitely be pretty proud of my choice.”

Committing to a college is a two-way street, and Casey was impressed with the commitment Springfield’s coaching staff made to him during the recruiting process and is excited about how it will continue over the next four years.

“They can definitely really help me strengthen my game,” said Casey, who added he was also impressed with the school’s applied exercise and physical therapy programs, an area he plans to major in. “All of their coaches are always in touch with me. They’re constantly texting me or writing me. I think over time they’ve probably written me 10 to 20 handwritten letters since they started recruiting me. It just shows that they’re really involved with their players and want the best for every person on their team. They just want everybody to get better.”

“It’s been a goal for Tommy for quite a while to play football at the next level, so for that to happen for him is awesome,” said Hathaway, who is close with the Casey family and met with Springfield coaches via Zoom recently.

Casey played 7-on-7 touch football in the fall for Leavitt after the Maine Principals’ Association nixed a tackle season due to the pandemic. He’s currently waiting for a possible basketball season but Leavitt is unable to hold workouts due to Androscoggin County being designated “yellow” (elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission) by the state.

Casey does track and field in the spring, which was also canceled last season due to the pandemic. He’s hoping to have a fitting close to his high school career next spring but would jump at the chance to put on the pads and helmet if, as some have hoped, the MPA decides to hold a spring football season.

“I’m a little eager to play as quick as possible,” he said.

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