MILTON – You don’t have to tell Owen McHugh about the long line of great quarterbacks (Mike Fallon, Owen Keaney, Luke McMenamin, Chase Vaughan) who have played for the Milton High football team over the past seven years .
He has seen them all.
“I would be here every Friday night watching them,” McHugh said. “I grew up wanting to be them, in a way. I wanted to be myself on the pitch.”
After a long apprenticeship under Vaughan, a three-year starter, McHugh’s time has finally arrived. Although he’s seen plenty of action in his first three college seasons — both as a backup QB and as an all-league safety — his senior campaign is shaping up to be a big deal.
Now it’s his turn to lead the Wildcats offense.
“It’s something I’ve been working for for a long time now,” he said. “I’ve played football with these guys my whole life, basically. I’m excited to go out there and see how our team fare.
“I’ve been playing this program for a while now, so I know all the plays. I know the receivers and the schemes. It shouldn’t be too difficult.”
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Along with his stellar work on defense, McHugh has impressed in various QB cameos, including last year when he replaced an injured Vaughan and guided Milton to a 45-21 playoff win over Dartmouth. In the previous game, a 42-27 home loss to Natick that ended the regular season, McHugh snatched an 80-yard TD run and threw a TD pass after Vaughan suffered a knee injury.
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“He’s really good,” coach Steve Dembowski said of McHugh. “He pushed Chase for playing time the last two years. He probably played in about 70 percent of the games on offense and he was an all-league safety last year in the Bay State Conference. He knows everything we do. He’s a double threat – he can run and throw. And he’s a great teammate – he’s the hardest working kid in the team.”
Vaughan has set the bar high. He was 22-4 as a starter and holds school records for career passing yards (4,410) and career TD passes (45). He was the Bay State Conference’s Herget Division MVP last season, throwing for 1,778 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 61 percent of his attempts.
Asked to compare his 2022 and 2021 QBs, Dembowski offered this take: “I would say (McHugh is) a bit more dynamic as a runner. And he’s definitely more aggressive on the field with the ball.” The coach then smirked before adding: “I don’t know if I like it yet (but) he sees things and he takes his shots and he’s going to get you defending the whole pitch.”
Anyone who wanted a taste of the offense led by McHugh must have been happy with what they saw during the 7-on-7 summer circuit.
“We went 17-2 in three tournaments, won two and lost in the final by 1 point in the other,” Dembowski said. “He’s a good player. We’re lucky to have him.”
“It was definitely a confidence boost,” McHugh said of the 7-on-7 success. “We have to play against different types of teams, teams that we might face in the future. waves with our receivers. Now it’s about getting ready for the real season.”
McHugh (6-foot, 180 pounds) will see plenty of familiar faces in the receiving corps with seniors Shane Olsen, Dillon Mackenzie, Luke Sammon and Mike Fulton all returning. The latter two were Bay State Conference All-Stars last season.
“I’ve been throwing at Mike and Dillon since fourth grade,” McHugh said. “That’s a lot of reps (where) I threw at them.”
At running back, 5-foot-8 senior Jack Finnegan replaces Amari Marsman, who scored 19 touchdowns a year ago. Finnegan was an all-league cornerback in 2021.
“I learned a lot” from Marsman, Finnegan said. “He’s a very good ball carrier. He did everything right. He’s a lot more athletically gifted (than me), but hopefully I can do some of the things he did.”
“He’s had a great offseason,” Dembowski said of Finnegan. “Another strong worker in the weight room. He’s also a double threat – can run and catch.”
Graduation has hit the trenches hard, so Milton will have to rebuild his offensive and defensive lines. Senior Drew Cakouros is expected to be the anchor there, playing center and defensive end.
The only returning starter on the O line, Cakouros checked the names of Liam Faherty, Anderson Perez-Ruiz and Josh Ricciardi as Wildcats who could move up. “We have a lot of good guys,” he said. “We have high hopes. Hopefully we can get back to what we had last year.”
Milton finished 8-3 in 2021. After leading the Wildcats to a big win over Dartmouth in Game 1 of the Division 3 playoffs, McHugh (and the rest of the team) fared less well against North Attleboro, losing 62-28. McHugh started that one, but Dembowski eventually returned to Vaughan to try to provide a spark.
Milton had three defensive misfires last season – against North Attleboro, Natick and Scituate (34-20 loss in Week 1). In the other eight games (all wins, not by chance), the Wildcats allowed an average of 9.5 points.
Says Dembowski: “When you play against big teams, things are on display that aren’t at other times.”
Milton opens against Scituate again this year, hosting Friday, September 9 at 7 p.m.
This year’s defense will rely on outside linebacker KJ Beckett (he’s signed to Bowdoin College), as well as cornerbacks Finnegan, Patrick Miller and Luke Haley. Dembowski would like to keep McHugh off the field on defense so he can save his energy for the quarterback.
McHugh hopes to build on a terrific spring in which he helped lead the Milton baseball team to a Division 2 state championship, the first in program history. The shortstop was an All-Scholastic pick after hitting .381 with 19 RBI out of the cleanup spot for the Wildcats (22-3).
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I love being with these guys, working alongside them and above all winning. That’s also our goal here. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but that’s what we all work for every day. We just want keep getting that’s the goal at the end of the year.”