NORTHBOROUGH — Nashoba Regional High middle linebacker Zack Hume crouched low a few yards behind his defensive linemen, as if he were seated in an invisible chair.
As Algonquin Regional’s quarterback reached under center, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Hume leaned forward. He had seen this formation before, and he already had an idea of where the play would go. When the ball was snapped, he shot through an opening in the Tomahawk offensive line and smothered the tailback for a 4-yard loss.
“He's one of the best linebackers to be able to read where the play is going and make a play on it,’’ said Algonquin’s coach, Justin McKay. “And he's extremely strong. You have to change your scheme to adapt to him, and even when you do, he can make a lot of plays,’’ McKay said.
“The kid was all over the field. He was everywhere. He's just a specimen.’’
Hume is the centerpiece of a linebacker-heavy defensive scheme for the unbeaten Chieftains (3-0) that has allowed just 8.0 points per game this season.
Nashoba’s coach, Ken Tucker, usually employs three down linemen and five linebackers in order to adjust to an array of offensive formations; so far this season his squad has handled them all.
A field goal by Algonquin kicker Stephen Roy, late in the first half of Nashoba’s 42-3 victory last weekend, was the first score allowed by the Chieftains’ starting defense this fall.
Tucker gives a lot of the credit to Hume. “He's intense; he's physical. He's always where the ball is,’’ Tucker said. “He has a great nose for the ball; that's why we have him in the middle of the defense.’’
When Hume makes a tackle, a referee's whistle can be a merciful thing. He so physically overpowered Algonquin ball carriers on multiple occasions that almost from the moment he made contact — before the runner even started to fall to the turf — the play was blown dead. He not only stopped the momentum of his opponents on impact, he drove them backwards and demanded they go along for the ride.
On those plays, the officials blew their whistles early because it was clear: Once Hume had a player in his grasp, the result was inevitable.
But as physically gifted as he is — Hume ran a 4.6 40-yard dash last summer — it’s his mental preparation that allows him to consistently be in the middle of plays. He’s a film-study junkie, watching clips of his foes at every chance he gets. Using Hudl software, he can download video to his computer when it’s made available by the Nashoba coaching staff. He even has an application that allows him to break down footage on his phone.
“I watch it every day,’’ Hume said. “If I have free time, right when I get home sometimes, I'll watch it and try to find teams’ tendencies: who does what, what they like to do. I’ll do homework and I’ll watch it until I go to bed.’’
He is a long way from the self-described “fat kid’’ who had to play with older players during his Pop Warner days because of his size. Back then, his father, Carl Hume, who played linebacker at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, tried to teach him the basics in their Lancaster backyard.
Now he’s a three-year starter coming off of two consecutive 100-tackle seasons. He has received interest from schools such as UMass, Temple, and Colgate, and as a captain he’s one of the most respected players on the team.
“His speed for a kid his size, he has speed that’s never been heard of, especially out of Central Mass.,’’ said fellow senior linebacker and captain Jack Sarnoski . “There was one play where I thought I got to the ball quick, but he made that tackle before I did. It’s crazy. He motivates me to get to the ball quicker because I want to get my tackles, too.’’
Hume is dealing with an ankle sprain that has kept him from starting at fullback, but the offense has been fine without him, averaging more than 40 points per game behind the leadership of Sarnoski, who at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds at times plays QB like a linebacker — looking for contact.
Nashoba will get a real test Friday at home against Holy Name Central Catholic (2-1) and its talented running back, Quron Wright , who had 216 yards on the ground last week in a 43-6 win over Arlington Catholic. Hume knows it will be a challenge. But he’ll watch the film, and come game time he’ll put to use what he has learned.
“It’s going to bring us down to earth," Hume said of Friday’s matchup. “It’s going to humble us. We can’t expect to blow them out. We know they’re a very, very good team. We know they’re going to move the ball; we just got to try to stop them.’’
Hillers mastering coach’sspread offensive system
Jim Girard is in his third season as head coach at Hopkinton, which means his spread offensive system has become second nature for the seniors who first learned it as sophomores.
Through three games, their understanding of the wide-open style has shown.
The Hillers are 3-0 and averaging more than 32.3 points per game. They opened their Tri-Valley League schedule last week with a 41-25 win over Medway.
For Girard, his players knowing the offense has allowed them to focus on the playbook’s finer points.
“We don’t have to spend as much time teaching the kids the terminology of the language,’’ Girard said. “It’s really more about repetitions and getting them to execute. It’s not as much time teaching the Xs and Os. Now we can really focus on fundamentals. That’s really the key we’ve got to get better at.’’
The Hillers lost 15 starters from last year's 10-1 team. Whereas that offense revolved around Mike Decina , a dual-threat quarterback, this year’s Hopkinton spread looks slightly different. Senior quarterback Hank Rudden is more of a pocket passer, while junior running back Nolan Cornu is counted on to chew up rushing yardage.
Three returning senior offensive linemen — center Jake Lehman , left tackle Tom Aitken, and right guard Connor Sullivan — bring stability up front, and receivers Shaun Palmer (6-foot-4) and Ryan Bohlin (6-3) give Rudden a pair of big targets in the passing game.
“We still have a balanced attack but it’s not just the quarterback every play either running or throwing,’’ Girard said. “I would say we’re probably even a little bit more dynamic on offense this year than we were last year, as far as different kids touching the ball.’’
Tigers are really roaring
Maynard registered its first win of the season in resounding fashion last week, scoring eight touchdowns in a 63-34 win over Montachusett Regional Tech.
Junior running back Sean Peterson ran for 235 yards and four touchdowns in what was the highest-scoring game in Central Mass. since 2005.
Phil Perry can be reached at paperry27@ gmail.com.