Casasanta knows if you’re naughty and a nice football player
For the past 15 years, John Casasanta has been the recruiting Santa for the University of Guelph’s Ontario University Athletics’ football program.
Each fall, Guelph’s coaching staff looks to see what the school’s Niagara recruiter has brought for them to unwrap when training camp starts.
“My first year, I landed two All-Canadians (James Savoie and Jedd Gardner) and an OUA (Ontario University Athletics) all-star (Sebastian Howard) right off the bat,” the 47-year-old Welland native said. “From there, he (then head coach Kyle Walters) told me to just keep going and now I am up to 85 or 86 players from Niagara that have signed a letter of intent and played for the University of Guelph in some capacity.”
Casasanta’s lost of recruits speak for themselves. In addition to the start-studded first recruiting class, he has also helped Guelph sign: CFL players John Rush, Jeff Finley, Alex Charette and Johnny Augustine; All Canadian Ryan Niewesteeg; OUA all-stars Jordan Duncan, Kyle Fraser, Donnie Egerter and Greg Corfield; Michael Millar, who became a team defensive MVP; and, Taylor Palmer and Rob Farquarson, Guelph Wildman Award winner for the senior or graduating player who exemplified to the highest degree the traits of sportsmanship, leadership, gentlemanly conduct, and who has maintained good scholarship.
Niagara players are highly sought after for a number of reasons.
Niagara is full of excellent athletes,” Casasanta said. “It’s a blue collar and tough area and the football players coming from this area are the same. They’re great teammates, coachable and, most importantly, tough as nails.”
Found on Guelph’s 2010-2020 team of the decade were Augustine, Farquarson, Charette, Millar, Finley, Corfield Egerter, Rush, Howard, Fraser and Niewesteeg.
“You bring in enough of those guys and even a new coach will say that he will give me a chance. I will work until they fire me or they say they don’t need me any more. I love doing it and that program changed me,” said Casasanta, who has now worked for five head coaches. “It made me who I am today. I went though a lot of difficult times during my playing years there — my mom passed away when I was there — and I gravitated back to the program after I graduated. I had great coaches there in Dan McNally and Pat Tracey and they were big influences on me. When I saw an opportunity give back to the program, I jumped at it.”
In addition to his recruiting duties, Casasanta has been in charge of special teams player personnel on game day since 2006.
“People think it is an easy job because you are on the sidelines but when a player gets hurt and that guy is on four different special teams, if his replacement doesn’t know where he is supposed to be by the time the punt team gets called out, that’s on me,” he said.”You can’t be a spectator any more because you have to focus on who is where, what they are doing, you have to get his backup up and ready and you have to be in constant dialogue with the trainers.”
Casasanta played football at Eastdale and went on to be a five-year letterman at defensive back at Guelph. He decided to get more involved with Guelph when Walters took over as head coach.
“I reached out to him and told him that I want to be part of it because when I played he was the captain of our team. I had really good rapport with him and I thought it was pretty special that a guy that I had played with became head coach.”
Casasanta has also coached minor football in Guelph and Welland and high school football in Niagara. The Lakeshore Catholic teacher was the head coach of the Denis Morris junior team from 2006 to 2014, head coach of the Lakeshore junior team from 2015 to 2017 and is now the head coach of Lakeshore’s senior squad.
Other Niagara area players recruited by Casasanta are Ben Blackadder, Matt Woehl, Nick Woehl, Nick Smelsky, Mike Fortino, Trevor Jones, Kyle Stephenson, Corey Davidson, Jason Diston, Mike Newman, Kyle Mataya, Alex Agnino, Hunter Bowman, Aaron Dekker, Kevin Denhollander, Brian Schenk, Keaton Spratt, Giuliano Tropea, Matt Woehl, Josh Jansen, Kory Kemp, Ryan Mattei, Michael Prytula, Evan Murdza, Eric Denis, Alan Florez, Ian Marouf, Pat Stairs, Trey Gervais Dave Tessier, Jesse Benson, Jake Barton, Jesse Willick, Dean Yaromich, Mack Jones, Colton Jones Lukas Brennan, Simon DiMaria, Jordan Terrio, Jack Gelbert , Michael Casscione, Maksym Nzartchuk, Colin Reece, Sandor Mod, Tyler Scholz, Daniel Serravalle, Matt Reuter, Will Schmahl, Zack Ayotte, Carson Gilbert, Evan Horn, Devon Schiller-Cleveland and Aidan Atkins.