It didn’t take long for Littleton High football coach Mike Lynn to realize that change was coming. He knew four years ago, the first time he saw Alex McLaughlin — then a freshman running the wing-T offense for Littleton’s junior varsity team — break free from a sack and sprint for an 80-yard touchdown.
Clearly, McLaughlin was the kind of athlete who needed to be set free from the governors of Littleton’s traditional style.
“I felt like we were wasting him with a lot of hand-offs and pitches,” Lynn said. “His freshman year was the year that I made the decision that we were really going to start heading in this direction.”
Over the last three seasons, with McLaughlin as the team’s quarterback, Littleton has overhauled its offense into a fast-paced spread system that has become one of the most prolific in the state, and helped the Tigers (12-0) reach the Division 6 Super Bowl on Saturday against Cohasset.
Littleton averages 40.9 points per game thanks in large part to McLaughlin’s dual-threat abilities.
He is Lynn’s first player to go over 1,000 yards in multiple categories (1,226 yards rushing, 1,331 yards passing), and he has accounted for 33 touchdowns (18 rushing, 15 passing) during his team’s run to the state championship game.
The Tigers also feature the leading scorer in all of Division 6 in senior Travis Bassett , who serves as Littleton’s version of a Swiss Army knife. A running back, receiver, kick returner, and cornerback, Bassett has scored 29 touchdowns this season.
McLaughlin (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and Bassett (5-11, 160) are three-sport athletes who also have played significant roles on Littleton High’s basketball and baseball teams. Bassett was a starting guard on the Tigers hoop squad that made it to the Division 4 state semifinal last winter. McLaughlin starred on the diamond in the spring, winning MVP honors in the Midland Wachusett League’s D Division as an infielder and a pitcher whose fastball topped out at 86 miles per hour.
Together their athleticism — both run the 40-yard dash in about 4.6 seconds — made Lynn’s decision to move toward a no-huddle, spread-it-out scheme he calls “Lightning” the right one.
“It evolved as a matter of personnel,” said Lynn, who graduated from Littleton High in 1988 and learned the wing-T system there. “Our personnel were changing, our linemen weren’t going to be as big as we had in the past, but we could see we were going to have really good speed.”
The Tigers roster features 10 seniors, who all had to get a grip on the team’s changing style over the last three seasons. They still keep up on two playbooks — one for the spread offense and one for the wing-T — but they’ve adjusted quickly and learned to love the run-and-gun nature of the new system’s plays.
“It’s cool,” said McLaughlin, “because you’ll watch teams in college football run the spread and say, ‘Oh that’s where Coach got that play from.’ It’s a lot of fun watching and seeing teams on TV do the same things we are.”
After Lynn installed more spread principles last season, McLaughlin, Bassett, and the rest of the Tigers set out to perfect their understanding of the offense. In a summer passing league held at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High, they played against defenses from larger schools, like the host squad and Hudson High, and performed well.
“We were definitely surprised at first,” Bassett said. “We beat some of the bigger schools and we figured out that our skill players for our team are pretty good. That gave us confidence and definitely helped us this season.”
Part of the success shared by Bassett and McLaughlin this season can be traced to the chemistry they’ve developed since they were 9 years old and Pop Warner teammates.
They’ve spoken of potentially continuing their careers together in college. Both players have received interest from Trinity College and Stonehill College, while McLaughlin has also been in contact with Bentley University, Endicott, Merrimack, and Assumption.
“We’ve definitely discussed it before,” Bassett said. “That would be pretty cool to play together in college, but right now we’re thinking about our next game.”
Cohasset (11-1) possesses a high-scoring offense as well (35.0 points per game), though unlike Littleton’s spread, it uses an I-formation attack.
Kickoff at Gillette Stadium is scheduled for 9 a.m., meaning the Tigers will be on a bus headed for Foxborough at 6 a.m. and on the New England Patriots’ home turf by 8 a.m.
Both McLaughlin and Bassett believe adrenaline will squelch any early-morning fatigue, allowing them to do as they’ve done since they were freshmen playing JV football.
“We’re going to work hard and try to out-athlete them,” McLaughlin said, “like we always do.”
‘real deal,’ coach says
Minuteman Regional coach Brian Tildsley believes that his senior captain Zahir Ramsey may be one of the best-kept football secrets in all of Eastern Massachusetts.
In his six years at the helm, Tildsley has not coached a player who has made as big an impact as Ramsey, he said.
“When he stepped on the football field, we’ve never coached a kid that completely controlled a game for us like he did,” Tildsley said.
“Defensively, offensively, not only physically but mentally. The way he’d move his players around, he would basically be an on-the-field coach for us and run the show for us. He was the real deal in every way.”
A Boston resident, Ramsey started in 38 games over his four years on the varsity at the vocational high school in Lexington.
After helping the Mustangs finish 8-3 this season (tied with the 1986 Minuteman team for most wins in a season), Ramsey finished with a four-year record of 25-17, which is the most victories for any player in school history.
This fall Ramsey rushed for 1,778 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 18 two-point conversions, giving him the most points in EMass Division 6 (174).
The Mustangs were a combined 7-23 in the three years prior to Ramsey’s freshman season.
“He helped us turn the program around,” Tildlsey said.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder was a “superback” in Minuteman’s wildcat offense, and often served as the lone linebacker on defense, racking up 277 solo tackles over his high school career.
Tildsley believes Ramsey — a telecommunications major at Minuteman — has the ability to play college football, and he would like for him to get the chance to face some of the best high school players in the state in the Agganis All-Star Football Classic or the Shriners All-Star Classic this summer.
“I’d love to see,” Tildsley said, “how he matches up with some of the higher-division kids.”
Here and there
Natick High senior quarterback Troy Flutie, who has committed to attend Boston College, put his stamp on the state’s record books by throwing seven touchdowns in a 48-13 win over Framingham on Thanksgiving; he now holds the single-season (47) and career (112) touchdown passing marks . . . Before feasting on turkey, Shrewsbury High had its fill of drama on Thanksgiving. Junior quarterback Jack Campanale hit senior receiver Kris Swedberg from 18 yards away as time expired to give the Colonials the 21-20 win over Wachusett Regional.