FARMINGTON — In Bradley Jackson, the Mt. Blue High School football team had an all-Pine Tree Conference Class B player returning at linebacker. In Chad Luker, the Cougars had an all-conference defensive end returning.
In the summer, Mt. Blue coaches decided to move Luker to linebacker, and the experiment worked. Now, into the second half of the season, it looks like in Jackson and Luker, Mt. Blue has a pair of all-conference linebackers.
“I think we’ve got the best pair in the league,” Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin said. “We really feel we have a special pair of linebackers. They’re definitely the strength of our defense.”
Mt. Blue is 5-0, but the Cougars get their toughest test of the season Friday night, when they travel to Turner to take on 5-0 Leavitt. The Hornets haven’t lost a PTC game since the semifinals of the 2008 playoffs, and if the Cougars are going to stop that 38-game winning streak, Jackson and Luker will be two of their most important players.
“They’re a fast football team. They’ve got good skill players. We just need to play them honest. You need to play hard. You need to play tough,” Jackson said.
Jackson has 38 tackles, while Luker, who missed one game with an injury, has 31.
“They’re not going to set any records here, but the years we had guys setting records, our defense was on the field all the time,” Parlin said. “That’s always a stat that’s misleading. They’ve played in the fourth quarter of one game so far this year.”
Until the Cougars played in a 7-on-7 league at Colby College in Waterville over the summer, Parlin and defensive coordinator Craig Collins still planned to use the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Luker at defensive end.
“We put him at linebacker because there’s really no defensive end in 7-on-7. I noticed right away he could cover the pass. That made me start thinking. He might be the missing link in our defense,” Collins said.
Linebackers coach Brad Bishop lobbied hard for the move, Parlin said.
“Coach Bishop, first thing he says is, ‘Chad needs to be a linebacker.’ When I talked to (Luker) about it, he said ‘I’m not sure, Coach.’ He was a returning all-conference player,” Parlin said. “I said, ‘Well, there’s one thing they can’t do. They can’t run away from you at inside linebacker.’ Now, I didn’t bother to tell him they wouldn’t run away from him, necessarily, because (returning defensive end) Zak Kendall’s on the other side.”
Luker, who plays fullback on offense, enjoys his new position.
“I feel like I’ve picked up on it quicker than I thought I would. I like it a lot more. I can go to both sides of the field a lot more. I don’t have just contain. I get to cover the pass, too, which is huge,” Luker said.
Added Collins: “With Chad, it’s a completely new position. To learn reads, to understand sideline to sideline. It’s no longer contain and step down, and he’s picked it up well. Every week he gets better.”
With depth in the secondary, Mt. Blue switched from the 4-3 defensive front it used last season to a 4-2, which changed Jackson’s role a little.
“Bradley, he’s moved from our 4-3 guy outside to inside, and it’s a little different reads. He’s improved a lot on that,” Collins said.
One area Jackson feels he’s improved is pass coverage.
“I feel like I’ve done a little better, getting in the right spots,” Jackson said.
Against Leaviitt, the emphasis is stopping the run game, led by running back Brian Bedard and quarterback Tyler Chicoine.
“Taking care of the dive will be the big thing. The linebackers, if they fly out to the flats, they’re going to give it to the dive guy, and then we’re going to be in trouble,” Collins said.
Jackson and Luker each say their just doing their role.
“It starts off with our front four. They’ve got to do their responsibilities. Contain, stay in their gaps, and open up big lanes for us to make tackles,” Luker said.
Added Jackson: “If everyone does their job, if everyone does their assignments, 11 guys to the football every single time, I think that’s going to be the key to winning this game, whoever is playing better D.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242