FARMINGTON, Maine — Football depth charts usually function like business flow charts. If you’re already one of the best at your position, you’re not usually in danger of being reassigned within the organization.
Still, when Mt. Blue head coach Gary Parlin and assistant coach Brad Bishop took a look at strapping, incumbent all-Pine Tree Conference defensive end Chad Luker this past summer, they couldn’t help but think about an upgrade.
“We were starting our 7-on-7 league at Colby and Brad goes, ‘He’s going to play linebacker this year.’ And I said, ‘Great, so who’s going to play end?'” Parlin said.
Luker was equally skeptical.
“I loved playing defensive end last year so much,” said the 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound senior. “Now I definitely like this a lot better. I make more tackles.”
There’s nowhere for opponents to run and hide. Against Mt. Blue’s 4-2 defensive alignment, just about every running play ends in the clutch of Luker or his partner-in-crime at linebacker, Bradley Jackson.
The two have combined for nearly 70 tackles, leading Mt. Blue into Friday night’s clash of Pine Tree Conference Class B unbeaten at Leavitt.
“It’s awesome having him beside me out there,” said Jackson, an all-PTC pick at the position in 2011. “I know I have help on the other side, or that I’m helping him.”
Summer 7-on-7 drills were the ideal place to test the waters with Luker. Linemen are de-emphasized in the program that gives participating schools a chance to flaunt their offensive firepower.
With the added blessing of defensive coordinator Craig Collins, Parlin saw enough from Dustin Richards in that camp to know that he was ready to step in opposite Zak Kendall at defensive end.
“Coach Bishop is our linebackers coach. He has a unique style of coaching, and a lot of times it chases away potential linebackers. But he closed the deal [with Luker] by the second week,” Parlin said. “He’s such a big presence out there, and really he’s getting better every week because it’s still a new position to him.”
Renowned for explosive offense during Parlin’s 20 years at the helm, Mt. Blue may have its best defense in many moons.
The Cougars tuned up for the Hornets by shutting out Oceanside. They also held Madison and Mount Desert Island without a touchdown until the junior varsity took over.
“It’s like your quarterback on offense,” Parlin said. “You want your best players and your smartest players at linebacker.”
“It all starts with our defensive line. They get a good push,” Jackson added. “We have a lot of faith in our defense going into Friday.”
Mt. Blue’s dynamic duo waited its turn to make an impact on the other side of the ball.
Luker lined up at fullback in select formations as a junior. Now he’s a slot back, frequently the target of shovel passes and quick slants from classmate Jordan Whitney.
“Chad’s a house,” Parlin said. “We told both those guys that they had to understand it wasn’t going to be just defense this year. And Chad is really evolving into one of our key weapons. His blocking has gotten better and better, and when he gets to that second level, defensive backs have a hard time tackling him.”
Jackson, difficult to stop in his own right at 195 pounds, shares the load in the backfield with Calan Lucas.
He contributed in other spots a year ago while Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalist Izaiha Tracy emerged as the Cougars’ big-play threat.
“We’re more of a balanced football team this year,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t say we’re just a passing team. We have great lead blockers in Connor Farrington and Tyler Sennick, and when we go off tackle, I love having [tight end] Zak Kendall blocking for me.”
Parlin said that Jackson addressed the team Tuesday with “a few choice words,” setting the tone for one of the Cougars’ best practices of the season.
In a roundabout way, Jackson and Luker’s leadership with words and deeds and their willingness to learn new skills for the good of the team pays tribute to Friday’s opponent.
Leavitt edged Mt. Blue in a pair of classic games a year ago, 22-17 at Farmington and a 22-21 double-overtime thriller in the PTC title game at Turner.
“When you think of Leavitt, you think of interchangeable parts. They must rotate kids to every position at every practice, because they never miss a beat,” Parlin said. “Bradley and Chad are not only talented kids, they’re fiercely loyal to the program.”