EASTON, Mass. -- When local legend and former NFL wide receiver Darren Flutie took over as offensive coordinator for Newton South two years ago, the Lions quickly became one of the most productive offensives in the state, with quarterback Austin Burton running a potent spread attack.
Last fall, the 6-foot-3 Burton led the Lions to their first winning season in over a decade while passing for 3,327 yards and 39 touchdowns. With the help of wide receiver Anthony DeNitto, running back Jamyre Soberanis, and several other talented offensive players, Burton was able to build on the momentum of that impressive season by leading the Lions to the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 South Regional title at Oliver Ames High on Sunday.
After seven consecutive victories in pool play and the single-elimination playoff brackets, the Lions defeated Foxborough, 20-14 in the tournament’s final game.
“We definitely came into the tournament with a different mind set, and really wanted to come out strong in the knockout round,” said Burton, who holds an offer from UMass and interest from Boston College, Duke and Northwestern as he prepares for his junior season.
He continued, “We thrive in this format because of the way we play spread offense during the year. We feel like we shouldn’t lose 7 on 7s, and now we’re really excited because we’ve got all our skill [position players] back heading into the season.”
New Age Offense: Flutie spent several years coaching at Natick High, and helped his son Troy post some eye-popping numbers by employing a run-and-gun brand of offense. Troy, who was named ESPNBoston's Mr. Football in 2013, shattered several sacred passing records in Massachusetts, most notably career touchdown passes (112), career passing yards (9,014) and single-season passing touchdowns (47).
Now in his second year as the offensive coordinator for Newton South, Flutie relishes the opportunity to familiarize his players with that style of play during these summer tournaments.
“[7 on 7 tournaments] are another chance to get familiar with our terminology, so that by September, we hope it will all be second nature to the players,” explained Flutie. “The summertime is when the kids can take ownership. The captains are running the defense, Austin [Burton]’s running the offense, and it’s a great time to learn the game and get better.”
It certainly helps to have a signal-caller like Burton, whose talent is supplemented by an extensive football acumen that seems to come naturally to the third-generation ball player.
“Austin [Burton]’s at the point where I can let him go out there, call the plays, and check into something if he doesn’t like what he sees at the line of scrimmage,” lauded Flutie.
When asked about Burton’s progression heading into his junior year, Flutie continued, “He’s more experienced, his release is getting quicker, and his ability to read the coverage and recognize matchups are all improving. Those are the most important things in high school football, and he still has plenty of room for improvement, but he does a lot of things very well.”
Over The Hump: After finishing first in their five-team pool, the Lions faced defending Division 2 state champion Marshfield in an elimination game in the round of 16.
Flutie recalled how the contest was tied in the final minutes of action, “And we hadn’t stopped Marshfield all day. So my instruction was to let them score, because then at least we’d get the ball back and be able to go for two. They scored, didn’t get the extra point, and the first play, we hit Anthony [Denitto] on an out-and-up for a touchdown, and converted the extra point on an out route to [Denitto].”
Defeating one of the favorites in the region seemed to inspire the Lions, as they breezed through their next two tilts to advance to the finals.
“When I heard we were facing Marshfield, I knew it was going to be tough, but it was win or go home. After we got over that hump we kind of mellowed out and took things one play at a time,” said Burton.
In a close championship game with Foxborough, a momentum-swinging defensive play proved to be the difference, as junior Jamyre Soberanis came up with an interception to deny the Warriors a chance to tie the game in the final minutes.
“The quarterback was staring at his receivers a lot, so on that play, I just read his eyes, made a break on the ball, and it was right there,” explained Soberanis. “That was key, because both offenses are high powered, and we just needed a stop. Once we got that stop, we knew we could win.”
By reaching the finals, both Newton South and runner-up Foxboro automatically qualify for the New England championship tournament, which is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, July 29 at a location that is to be determined.
Regardless of the venue, the Lions are excited to test their brand of spread offense on an even larger stage.
“This is a great way to get in shape for the season,” Soberanis concluded. “That’s what it’s really about. There’s going to be a lot of great athletes [at the state finals] and I can’t wait to compete with the best of the best.”