This isn’t Texas, or Florida, or California, or even quarterback-central Pennsylvania, all states that pump out one NFL-star-to-be after another, year after year. Instead, Massachusetts produces a steady diet of schoolboy standouts, many of whom go on to productive college careers, and a lucky few who reach the pros. With that in mind, back in 1999, the Globe sifted through thousands of high school careers and settled on these 10 as the best football players the state ever produced, a collection of familiar and unfamiliar names.
Will any of this year’s stars be worthy of a list like this someday? Time will tell.
So for now, here is how the Globe described these schoolboy legends.
1. Charlie Brickley, Everett
A product of Everett High School, Brickley, a junior at Harvard, sauntered onto the field before the game and started to kick as though he were absolutely incapable of missing. First from the 20. Then the 30. Then the 40. Each ball split the uprights like an arrow piercing the bull’s-eye and the mood was established: Brickley, who doubled as a halfback, kicked five field goals and Harvard won, 15-5. It was the first time the Crimson had defeated Yale at Harvard Stadium. It was far from the only time Charlie Brickley inspired awe and adulation.
Tattered newspaper clippings speak in a raspy, avuncular, American voice, and they tell his story. Born in South Boston on Nov. 24, 1891, Brickley possessed boundless talent and his ambition was inexhaustible. He was a “common man” from Everett whose name is still singed into Harvard’s record books. He participated in the 1912 Olympics alongside Jim Thorpe — yes, that Jim Thorpe. He coached at Boston College. He played professionally and founded “Brickley’s” New York Giants. When he died of a heart attack, in 1949, he was described as “immortal” and mourned by “throngs.”
His performanace in 1908 was nothing short of amazing. Brickley set Everett records for touchdowns in one game (eight) and points in a game (47 — touchdowns were worth 5 points at the time). His state single-season total of 237 points was not surpassed until 1995, when Cedric Washington, who became a standout at Boston College, scored 257 points with Holyoke. After Brickley was selected a Globe All-Scholastic for the second straight year, his name began to attract national attention, but he still was not part of a state championship team, as Everett finished 11-4.
Brickley was a Globe All-Scholastic three straight years, and his career total of 488 points stood as a state record until Greater Lowell’s Joe Fuller came along in 1995.
2. Harry Agganis,
As a sophomore in 1945, Agganis started to establish himself at the varsity level. Classical had a veteran team and a hard-nosed coach in Bill Joyce, who was implementing a T-formation offense. Playing time would have been impossible were it not for Agganis’s undeniable talent as a runner, a passer, a safety, and a punter.
By midseason, nearly everyone in Lynn was aware of the potential in the backfield. The team finished 8-3, but it was the 1946 season that thrust Agganis into the national spotlight. He would soon earn his label as the titanic talent who led Classical to a 30-4-1 record during his stay, completing nearly 65 percent of his passes for 4,149 yards and 48 touchdowns, and rushing for 24 more.
More than 60 years have passed since one of sports’ greatest tragedies [Agganis died of an aneurism at age 26], but the “what ifs” remain. What if he had enjoyed a full career in baseball? What if he had doubled as a pro football star? What if he had branched out into the world of business or politics? Those who knew him say he would’ve succeeded in whatever field he followed.
3. Bobby Leo, Everett
Leo had a storybook career. Beginning on the sandlots of Everett, he went on to become a legend at Everett High, finishing with 43 touchdowns, 3,087 yards rushing, and 284 career points. In his junior season he led the state in scoring (138), and in his senior season, Everett won its 13th state title.
Leo chose to play his collegiate ball at Harvard and in 1967, he became the first Harvard player to be drafted by the modern NFL. His football life culminated with the Boston Patriots in 1968, when the team played in Fenway Park.
Leo’s father was a football standout at Everett High School, and in 1941, he helped lead the Crimson to a state championship. Like father, like son. Twenty years later, it was Bobby anchoring the Everett backfield for coach Amerino “Moody” Sarno. In his three years on the varsity squad, Leo led the Crimson to two state championships.
His high school career ended as it began: in style. After missing five games his senior season because of a separated shoulder, Leo returned for the last two. He carried the ball just five times, but scored on four of those runs. A career had come full circle, for as he had done on his first run as a sophomore, Leo scored on his last run as a senior, an 87-yard scamper.
4. Doug Flutie, Natick
The Flutie magic began when, as an inexperienced Natick High School sophomore, he led the Redmen to an improbable win over Braintree. Starting in just his third game at quarterback, Flutie watched as Braintree erased a 14-point deficit to take a 25-24 lead. Only 21 seconds remained when Flutie took over.
Flutie turned to his older brother Bill, his favorite receiver. The two hooked up on three consecutive passes, including a 50-yard bomb, to put Natick deep in Braintree territory. With seven seconds remaining, Natick coach Tom Lamb considered a long field-goal attempt. But on Flutie’s insistence, Natick went for one more quick play. Doug fired a quick pass to Bill at the Braintree 21 yard-line “We were talking about throwing a pass into the end zone,” said Bill Flutie, “when Doug said, ‘I can make the kick.’”
Bill Flutie took the snap, put the ball down, and watched as his younger brother won the game.
Flutie threw for 1,488 yards that season and 12 touchdowns, and accounted for 128 points in leading Natick to an 8-2 record.
5. Wayne Millner, Salem
In his first season on the Salem football squad, in 1927, Milner, in Salem’s game against archrival Beverly, blocked a kick, returning it for a score as the Witches took an 18-0 victory. Millner’s presence at end was at the core of Salem’s most dominating stretch in its series with Beverly, still one of the oldest football rivalries in Massachusetts. The Witches shut out Beverly for eight straight seasons.
“Wayne was like a piece of steel,” Salem teammate Joe O’Day told the Salem News in November 1976. “The guy was tough as nails. He was good and he knew it, although he was never sure how good he was.”
Millner earned All-Scholastic honors in 1928 and 1929, years in which the Witches posted a combined 19-1-3 record, including an EMass championship in 1929. Bill Broderick, the legendary Salem coach, would have Millner spit on the ball before each game for good luck.
6. Ken MacAfee, Brockton
MacAfee finished his career with 23 touchdown receptions. In his four years at Brockton, the Boxers were 33-3-1. What Brockton had was a 6-5, 225-pounder who had the speed of a tailback and the hands of a wideout. And he was not just an offensive standout. MacAfee anchored the defense at tackle, punted, and kicked off.
Brockton instituted the wishbone offense in the beginning of MacAfee’s junior year, with Peter Colombo at quarterback and MacAfee split out wide. The run set up big plays for MacAfee, who dwarfed all defensive backs who tried to mark him.
In his junior season he had three touchdowns against Springfield Cathedral, two in a game against White Plains (N.Y.), the top-ranked team in New York, and the game-winning TD against Brookline in a battle of unbeatens.
As a junior he led Brockton to the first Massachusetts scholastic Super Bowl in which it defeated Suburban League rival Newton, 16-14. MacAfee was selected a Globe All-Scholastic in 1972 and was a first team All-American at Notre Dame.
7. Howie Long, Milford
In the second game of his senior season against Franklin, the 6-3, 235-pound Long fractured his ankle. Long’s doctor said the injury would take four to six weeks to heal. But Long didn’t have four weeks to lose, never mind six.
Long went to his coach before the Clinton game, either two or three weeks after the injury, depending on who relates the story, and said he could play. The coach asked Long where his cast had gone and Long said it wore off. Long started on both sides of the ball that Saturday against Clinton and also played fullback.
He didn’t miss a down the rest of the season and made All Midland League for the second straight season, despite the fact that he wasn’t even a team captain. In his senior year he was named All Central Mass and was one of the most dominating players in the state. He wanted to attend Boston College, but after being told the Eagles wanted him to play offensive guard, Long chose to go to Villanova. While playing for the Wildcats, Long became recognized as one of the most talented linemen in the country.
8. Dick Jauron, Swampscott
He was only a junior in high school, but on Nov. 11, 1967, Jauron gave 10,000 fans at Swampscott High a glimpse of the savvy that would eventually lead him to head coaching jobs in the NFL.
The Big Blue clung to a 20-15 lead against rival Newburyport. There wasn’t much time left in the first half when Swampscott tackle Tom Toner recovered a Clipper fumble near midfield. On the next play, Swampscott quarterback Dan Videtta found Jauron streaking up the field, deep in Newburyport territory. Those who were there that day vividly recall what happened next.
“[Jauron] caught the ball among three defenders, but time was running out,’’ said Frank DeFelice, who was then a line coach for the Big Blue. “He called time out while he was still going down, a foot and a half short of the goal line.
“Then we ran him to the right and scored on the next play.”
It was a key play because Swampscott hung on to win, 28-27, ending a 20-game Newburyport winning streak. Bobby DeFelice, Frank’s brother and then head coach at Winthrop High, was also there.
Jauron decided on Yale after finishing his career at Swampscott with 371 points and 3,500 rushing yards.
9. Angelo Bertelli,
After transferring from West Springfield after his sophomore year in 1937, Bertelli left an indelible mark at Springfield Cathedral during his two-year stay, whether it was on the ice, where he was part of famed Cathedral Six, or on the baseball diamond, where he was all-city catcher for two seasons.
Although Bertelli always called hockey his true love, it was on the gridiron where he established himself as a true legend. In 1937, Cathedral coach William Wise suffered through his worst season at 2-4. Enter Bertelli. The local sportswriters were amazed by the junior’s ability to run, kick, and “throw the forward pass.’’ Bertelli made all-city and helped revive the football program as the Purple Panthers went on to claim the city and Western Mass. championships.
But the 1939 squad is remembered as one of the greatest teams ever at Cathedral. In eight games his senior year, Bertelli ran for six touchdowns and threw 10 scoring passes.
10. Joe Bellino, Winchester
Bellino entered the spotlight at Winchester High in 1953, following his two older brothers’ footsteps as stars of the Sachem football team. As a sophomore, he scored 79 points from his tailback position while playing safety on defense, and he also played on special teams as the kick and punt returner, the punter, and the placekicker. For the next two seasons, he would continue playing virtually the entire game, giving up only placekicking duties but staying on the field for all kickoffs.
As a junior he scored 96 point, and despite missing three games because of rainouts as a senior, the 5-foot-8-inch, 165-pound Bellino tallied 98 points for a career total of 273 points.