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Lone Star Wasp

Worrell Assumes Woodstock Job

Woodstock — He calls himself a Vermonter now, but a body doesn’t have to go far to learn that Ramsey Worrell’s loyalties are split.

C’mon. The guy has “longhorn” in his email handle.

It follows then that he’s a high school football coach, chosen recently to succeed 31-year veteran Jim McLaughlin at Woodstock High. Born in Texas, Worrell’s earliest memories are traveling around the Lone Star State as his dad, Chuck, coached high school football and baseball. The younger Worrell played the gridiron game, and well, at Woodstock and served as a McLaughlin assistant for 17 years.

Somebody had to be the one after McLaughlin, who retired with 211 wins, 14 trips to the Vermont Division III championship game and nine state crowns following November’s latest title. Worrell is, but it’s not as if he planned his life around getting there.

“Right out of high school (in 1994), I took a year off and it was the only year I was not involved in football at all,” Worrell said last week. “I went to junior college in Massachusetts and to try to go to school and play football.

“That summer, before going back, they upped the tuition and I couldn’t afford to go back. So I stayed around, coached football and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

That’s what tends to happen around McLaughlin. He wants his former players to stay connected to the game. Now, finally, one of them is taking his place.

A Woodstock-area resident since sixth grade, Worrell played for the Wasps at a time when the Vermont Principals Association was just beginning to introduce playoffs to its smaller-school football divisions. Just a taste of it was enough to stick with Worrell.

“The first year we went to the finals and lost (1992), I left with a feeling like I had finished what I was trying to accomplish,” he recalled. “When things didn’t work out for me school-wise and Coach Mac saw I was showing up to watch him, he finally pointed and said, ‘Come on down.’ That was pretty much it. I fell in love with it.”

Worrell might have been the first ex-player McLaughlin lured to the sidelines, but he wasn’t the last.

“Ramsey was probably the first one, but lots of kids come back to watch practice now and then, and I always try to encourage them, if they have an interest, to come and help out,” McLaughlin said last week. “Full time, part time, just so they can stay close to the program. Ramsey came to practice and was watching, so I said, ‘Come on down and give us a hand.’ He sort of came down and never left.”

The ensuing 17 years came down to learning, adapting … and winning. In addition to his years with his alma mater, Worrell also has twice been an assistant to McLaughlin in Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl games.

The consistency has extended to the staff. Chuck Worrell was McLaughlin’s wingman for three decades; he has chosen to retire from active coaching as well. But his son is hoping to have two other ex-Wasps, Zach Scott and Jordan Larson, staying as assistants, both Woodstock grads, who have stayed close to their former school for years.

“The thing that will make the transition easier is having the same coaches coming back,” Worrell said. “The biggest change will be hearing my voice more in situations where they were used to hearing Coach Mac. But they’re used to hearing me with the running backs and the linemen are used to hearing Coach Scott.

“Because of that continuity, it should transition smoothly. But it’s hard to say until we get into it.”

Systems aren’t likely to change, either. Worrell has become enamored with the wing-T schemes McLaughlin employed at Woodstock, having learned them as a player and understanding their necessity as an assistant coach.

“In terms of high school football in Vermont, this is a great system to run,” he said. “If you’re someplace else and had 600 kids to choose from and were getting 65 out for football and we had different skills and sizes, we’d run something different.

“But for the size of Woodstock and the kids we get out, the one thing I was taught was use the skills you have. The wing-T offense does that.”

Still, Texas remains close to Worrell, as close as a phone call from his father, whose never lost his accent despite three decades in the area.

The middle of three boys, Ramsey Worrell called coaching “the family business for a while” when his clan still resided in Texas. “I grew up going to baseball and football practices as a kid,” he recalled. “I have fond memories of riding buses in Texas.

“We were one of the few families that got away. All of our family lives, for the most part, in Texas. My identity is still very much being Texan. But we’ve been up here long enough where we feel very Vermont. We don’t feel like flatlanders anymore.”

Trips south are now pretty much an annual event. Worrell has a younger sister, Perron, who lives in the Austin area. Friends remain there. A visit in November included a college football bowl game.

“I had that accent,” Worrell admitted. “I used to say SEE-ment instead of SUH-ment. There was no difference between the ‘pin’ in your hair and the ‘pin’ you wrote with. People used to make fun of that, for about four years. I got into high school and it slowly went away, but I still say ‘y’all.’ There’s just not as much twang in it.”

Last year’s Woodstock team ran roughshod over the league during an 11-0 campaign that included 545 points and lopsided games seemingly by the week. The Wasps will carry a 20-game winning streak into their Aug. 31 debut at Poultney, having graduated more than 20 players from their back-to-back state championships.

Worrell isn’t making bold predictions, but has confident expectations knowing what he has coming back. The coach who made way for him is just as convinced that the Woodstock program is in capable hands.

“I’m really pleased with the fact that somebody that has been with the program for a long period of time, played in it, coached in it,” is taking over, McLaughlin said. “He has a love for the school and the football program. I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.