When all eyes were on Colin McQueen, first in high school as part of Exeter High School’s football dynasty in New Hampshire and then in college with a rebirth of the program at Salve Regina, he was watching, too.
McQueen could see what a winning program looked like, and he saw what it took to build one. Now with tonight’s Division 5 North title game at Swampscott (7 p.m.), it is plain to see that Amesbury High football is reaping the benefits of the young McQueen’s experience.
McQueen, just 30 and in his third season as the head coach of the Indians, has made a far greater impact than his record would suggest. He may only be 15-16 for his short career, but his teams have also captured a CAL Baker Division title while reaching back to back sectional finals.
This for a program that had gone just 14-28 in the four years prior to McQueen taking the reins.
So how did it happen? McQueen came to Amesbury with limited coaching experience. He was an assistant for two seasons with the Indians and had a couple years on the staff at Sanborn Regional in Kingston, N.H.
But he had a coaching connection in Amesbury High athletic director Glen Gearin.
You see, Gearin and Colin’s dad Kevin McQueen coached together at Timberlane Regional in Plaistow, N.H. They are close and Gearin watched Colin grow up in athletics, not just football but basketball and baseball (for his dad) at Exeter High.
“I felt we were fortunate when he applied for the job,” said Gearin. “I had watched him all the way from youth sports to high school and college. I knew his values and his philosophies. I knew exactly what we were getting. His rapport with the kids is absolutely awesome.”
First, there was sales work to be done. McQueen’s bread-and-butter is the same stuff that helped make Exeter so dominant in the Granite State – the antiquated, yet effective straight-T offense.
“We had pushed for the straight-T when I was an assistant coach,” said McQueen. “But it’s something that you just can’t mix in a little bit. It’s something you have to build a program around.”
McQueen learned that a long time ago under legendary coach Bill Ball at Exeter.
“To get my roots in Exeter, I knew nothing other than expecting to go out every game and win,” said McQueen, who played on the 2007 Blue Hawks state championship team.
Ball, to this day, remains one of the great football tacticians around. He saw plenty of promise, almost immediately, in his former fullback/defensive back.
“When he was here, he was the epitome what you would want in a student-athlete on and off the field. He checked all the boxes,” said Ball, who has Exeter in the N.H. Division 1 state semifinals this weekend. “What a great hire for Amesbury High School. It doesn’t surprise me at all that his team is highly disciplined, well-coached and physically tough. As a player, he was all that, tough and smart. It’s been fun to watch his rise in the coaching ranks. And he definitely works at it.”
But this isn’t just Exeter South.
McQueen also picked up plenty along the way from his college coach, current Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney.
At Salve, Chesney re-built the program. Again, McQueen took note.
“I saw how he flipped that program and what it takes to pull things together,” said McQueen. “He took care of all the little things, like helmet hooks in the locker room or drying machines for the shoulder pads.
“When I came to Amesbury, I tried to do similar things. One was team shorts and shirts for practices when we’re going just helmets or working out as a team. The little things matter.”
And with that, so does Amesbury football.
“We tried to create that culture and let these athletes understand that what we are doing here is important, not just to them but to the entire community here,” said McQueen.
The change was not immediate. Amesbury began 0-7 in 2017, his initial season.
But even as the losses mounted, McQueen could feel the program coming together.
“That first year we didn’t have the talent, and we were putting in the new playbook and the new program,” said McQueen. “We had a small senior class, four of them by the end, and we took our lumps, but those four guys who stayed were committed to building a foundation.”
Relegated to the non-playoff bracket, the Indians closed with a 2-2 run, setting up the dream of 2018.
“Last year, it felt like every week of the football season was important to a lot of people around here, around town,” said McQueen, whose club finished 9-2, including the tough sectional final at Swampscott and a Thanksgiving Day victory over Newburyport.
The two seasons were symmetrical record-wise, and when the Indians got off to a 1-3 start this fall, it was on McQueen.
There were whispers about the offense, which by the way is producing 28.1 points a game for the season and 34.5 in the playoffs. It may have been the point in his young coaching career that McQueen and his staff shone brightest.
Amesbury righted the ship enough to qualify for the playoffs and then has been a monster, rolling through previously unbeaten Bedford and then avenging the regular season loss to Lynnfield – both on the road.
“The reality is this year, we knew we were a better team than we showed,” he said. “It took longer than we wanted to, but we figured it out. Now, we show up every week thinking that we are the team that should win.”
Whether or not that happens at Swampscott is yet to be determined. But don’t count these Indians out.