Shane Huber ready to take on leadership role within UMass football’s defensive unit

By Andrew Cyr

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

In addition to losing its top playmakers on offense, the Massachusetts football team’s defense will have a significantly different look – and voice – come time for the 2016 season.

Any time someone walked on the field pregame at Gillette Stadium or watched practice from afar at McGuirk Stadium, former UMass linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox’s voice, whether firing his teammates up or aligning people in the right position, was easily the most distinguished out of the bunch. He was loud and in charge of the defense, and his presence both on and off the field will certainly be missed by the Minutemen.

Along with Santos-Knox, UMass is losing a number of key members from its 2015 team in all three phases of the defense unit. Trey Seals, Kassan Messiah, Robert Kitching III, Joe Colton, Randall Jette, Trey Dudley-Giles and Zeke Edmonds have all moved on, leaving the Minutemen with a much different look.

With a bevy of missing spots left for UMass coach Mark Whipple and defensive coordinator Tom Masella to find replacements for, inside linebacker Shane Huber has taken it upon himself to become more of a leader both on and off the field.

“It’s an awesome thing. It’s part of being a college player, the torch gets handed down. I’m taking it upon myself to be the best leader I can. Being the leader isn’t always about being the ‘rah-rah’ yelling guy, it’s about leading by example,” Huber said.

“My biggest goal, individually, would be everyday to get better not only on the field, but to become a better leader off the field, he added. “I think that’s something that a young team needs, it needs a lot of leaders. I know a lot of us are stepping into that role so I, myself, want to take it upon myself to be the best possible leader I can be.”

Aside from off-the-field responsibilities, Huber has embraced his role as the new “mike” linebacker (where he played in high school), a position held by Santos-Knox last year. The “mike” is essentially the quarterback of the defense, playing on the strong-side of the defensive formation. He is generally responsible for calling out different alignments on defense and making sure everyone is in the correct position.

“As a linebacker you want to be the core of the defense. It’s a good thing to be,” Huber said.

Last season playing alongside Santos-Knox, Huber was the weak-side inside linebacker with more of his focus being in coverage. Huber was second on the Minutemen with 95 tackles and led the team with two forced fumbles.

“I am more of a Rambo linebacker, so it’s kind of more of a sideline-to-sideline deal as opposed to just half the field,” Huber said of the adjustment. “So I would say just continuing to get back to the basics and under-thinking things and just flying around and making plays.

“That’s my natural position in my eyes, I’ve always played the ‘mike,’ so now finally being able to play that I’ve been able to cut loose.”

“It’s not a big deal to us. They play it anyway in the 3-4 stuff, but we are playing more four-down (defensive linemen), so he’s the guy that controls things for us,” Masella said. “He’s a natural-born leader. So, I don’t think it’s a big adjustment. I don’t think it’s a big adjustment to him. He handles that pretty darn well, so he’s been pretty good.”

Huber also mentioned that inside linebacker Steve Casali and freshmen James Bowe Jr. and Teddy Lowery have both had good winter sessions and spring practices as well. While Casali will primarily play linebacker this season, Bowe Jr. and Lowery have been playing more of a hybrid role on defense with both having good size and athleticism.

Along with becoming a vocal leader to his peers on the field, Huber has made it a goal for himself to lead the younger members on defense through his work ethic and how he goes about making plays on the field.

“On every team I’ve played on I’ve always strived to lead as someone who leads by example and in terms of getting guys going and encouraging people, so it’s not something that’s been difficult to adjust to, it’s something that’s a progression and now it’s my time to step up and I’m going to do just that,” he said.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.