Boston High School: John Ojukwu

With Hume, no letdown for No. 10 Nashoba

August, 28, 2012
BOLTON, Mass. -- The Nashoba Community Competition Complex is under renovation, roped off while surface improvements are made in anticipation of the upcoming athletic season.

About a hundred yards away, in the back left corner of the school grounds, the Nashoba Regional football team is practicing, undergoing a renovation of its own.

From a distance, it is hard to believe that this team, practicing in an outfield of a baseball field, amongst dirt piles and stationary backhoes, was last year’s Division 2 Central Mass Super Bowl Champion and is this year’s No. 10 team in ESPN Boston's preseason Top 25.

Most of the defense that allowed an average of 7.8 points per game, never gave up more than two touchdowns in a single game, and shut out Holy Name 27-0 in the Super Bowl is back. So is most of the offense that scored less than 20 points only twice all season, but there they are, running through plays trying to get them right.

Much like the field it plays its home games on, Nashoba looks mostly the same, but has its differences from last year. For one thing, it goes from being the proverbial hunter, to the hunted. No team in the Mid-Wach B conference will be taking Nashoba lightly, knowing full well about the explosiveness it brings on both sides of the ball.

“We just have to make sure we get better every single day,” said running back John Ojukwu. “That’s pretty much all we need to do, and not get cocky. We can’t think that teams are just going to give us games. We need to stay focused, and treat every game like it’s our last and be prepared as much as possible. Forget about last year, and just take it week by week.”

Twenty-one seniors are returning, knowing that championship feeling and the dedication it takes to get to that promised land. Complacency is a problem that has stricken many teams, whether it is caused from excessive celebrations or the expectance of victory causing them to not work as hard the second time around. The seniors are determined to not be one of those teams.

“We won’t let that happen,” said senior linebacker Zach Hume. “We talk about that a lot, about how we can’t just come back and walk through the season and take it really easy so we think we can just roll over teams. We won’t let that happen. We had a couple tough games last year, so we have to come out this year and play hard.”

The team was working out four times a week last year, in anticipation of getting back to the training camp grind once the season started. Hume, one of the anchors of the Chieftains defense, worked out with a trainer, bulking up his massive 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame. He also let teammates come over to his house to lift when they had nowhere else to go. It is seemingly small gestures like that which give a team the camaraderie it needs to win a championship.

The practice setting helps. The open, one goal post field has a grassroots feel to it. No pomp and circumstance. No recognition of what once was, and no recognition of what might be coming. Out there, with no eyes on the team but the coaches’ and their own, it is all about football.

That will be important in early September, when Nashoba will line up against Wachusett for the first of many games that will matter. It will be far removed from last year’s undefeated season, except this time, other teams will want to be the one to knock off the defending champs. With that, Nashoba will fall back on those days on the practice field behind its school, and all the repetitions, sprints, and coaching lessons that went along with it. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I always say to the kids it’s where everybody wants to be, so enjoy it while you’re there and take advantage of the situation and just prepare yourself,” said head coach Ken Tucker. “It’s the ultimate sign of respect if people are doing that to us. We just have to out-prepare them and outwork them, and nothing has changed. You’re not going to stay at the top unless you do those things. It’s a whole new season, last year means nothing, except everyone is gunning for us. In some ways, it’s a good feeling, because it’s where everybody wants to be. Enjoy it while you’re there because it doesn’t last forever.”

2011: 13-0 (5-0 Mid-Wach B), won Division 2 Central Mass Super Bowl
Coach: Ken Tucker (23rd season, 167-94-1 overall)
Strengths: Returning starters, Skill positions
Weaknesses: Depth
Key Returnees: John Ojukwu, Sr. RB/DB, 5-10, 175 lbs; Jack Sarnoski, Sr. QB/LB, 6-0, 215 lbs; Brady Schartner, Sr. WR/DB, 6-0, 175 lbs; Charles Phaneuf, Sr. TE/LB, 6-2, 215 lbs; Andrew Cross, Sr. RB/LB, 5-6, 175 lbs; Daniel Kennedy, Sr. WR/DB, 5-9, 170 lbs; Markiesh Harmon, Sr. RB/DB, 5-11, 165 lbs; Paul Louissaint, Sr. RB/LB, 6-1, 215 lbs; Zach Hume, Sr. FB/LB, 6-2, 230 lbs; Ethan Benjamin, Sr. T/DL, 6-4, 220 lbs; Alex Parker, Sr. T/DL, 6-2, 235 lbs; Mike Muldoon, Sr. G/LB, 6-0, 180 lbs; Wyatt Greene, Sr. G/LB, 6-1, 195 lbs; Garrett Curran, Sr. T/DL, 5-10, 205 lbs; Jack Garvey, Sr. T/DL, 6-0, 220 lbs; Jake Denaro, Sr. G/DL, 6-2, 205 lbs; Cameron Rothfuss, Sr. T/DL, 6-4, 275 lbs; Benjamin Nicholson, Sr. C/DL, 5-11, 230 lbs; Austin Cabral, Sr. WR/DB, 5-10, 165 lbs; Matthew Kelling, Sr. TE/LB, 6-3, 200 lbs; Joe Rios, Sr. TE/DL, 6-1, 215
Outlook: With over half the returning starters back from last year’s Super Bowl winning squad, it is a safe bet that Nashoba will be playing beyond Thanksgiving. It would be quite an achievement for the team to go undefeated again, given that it will be getting its opponents’ best game every Friday night. Another concern could be complacency, but by all accounts, the team has not lost the hunger and drive to repeat what it started. Tucker has coached championship teams before, so he’s well-versed in how difficult duplicating success is. There’s a leadership level both in the team and the coaching staff that seems to have Nashoba set up for continued success. Can it win a Super Bowl again? It certainly seems like it.

Recap: No. 19 Nashoba 26, Marlborough 17

October, 8, 2011

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- Hey, luck is where opportunity meets preparation, right?

Of course, how else are you going to explain 20 points off turnovers, which is what the No. 19 Nashoba Chieftains rode tonight to a 26-17 comeback victory over Marlborough at Kelleher Field that kept them undefeated at 5-0.

Nashoba came into the contest having not allowed a point in eight quarters. But it took all of two plays to erase that, with quarterback Mike Yates selling an option pitch hard as Paul Goulet (13 carries, 129 yards) took a dive handoff straight up the gut, 81 yards to paydirt.

But overshadowing a solid offensive performance by the Panthers (3-2) was their own undoing when it came to holding onto the ball. Nashoba's Brandon Steff tried to coffin-corner his first punt of the night, early in the second quarter, only to watch the Marlborough returner field the ball clumsily along the sideline. A Nashoba player landed on the loose ball, and Zach Arsenault plunged in from three yards out one play later to knot the score at 7.

Yates found tight end Michael Tirpak wide open in single-coverage down the right seam for a 39-yard touchdown and a 17-13 lead midway through the third quarter ("We were in straight man coverage, the guy missed him, and he knew it as soon as it happened," Nashoba head coach Ken Tucker said). But that lead unraveled in the final four minutes.

Another well-placed Nashoba coffin corner gave the Panthers a starting drive at their own five with 4:20 left in the game. Yates fumbled the snap on the first play, and on the next play Nashoba linebacker Sam Ashline fell on a fumble in the end zone for the lead with 3:38 to go.

The Panthers coughed it up again on the first play of the ensuing drive, with Brady Schartner (8 catches, 97 yards) squaring up and slamming Austin Garvey (88 rushing yards) to the ground to prevent a clean option pitch and give Nashoba the ball at the Marlborough 22. Five plays later, Arsenault plunged in again from three yards out to make it 26-17.

Three plays into its next drive, the Panthers fumbled the ball away again on a waggle to the right sideline, and the Chieftains kneeled off the remainder of the clock.

"We won ugly," Tucker said. "Marlborough's a good football team, I said it to the kids all week. I thought they were the best team we were going to play up to this point. We've played a pretty tough schedule, but I really do think that they're a very good football team. They're well-coached, and they came out and gave us everything we could handle. I'll give our kids credit, we found a way to win."

Said Marlborough head coach Sean Mahoney, "We gave them a short field. Our defense, it looks like we gave up [26] points, but one was a kickoff return for a touchdown, and then the short fields. We take away a few mistakes...but you can't make those mistakes against a team like that."

Lightning and...Lightning: For the last several years, Mahoney has deployed a plethora of spread formations, both under center and out of the shotgun, sprinkled with misdirection out of the triple option. But unlike traditional triple-option attacks, the Panthers don't utilize a true power back, instead relying on a speedy dive back to hit the hole quick and the quarterback to sell the veer or option fake to the edge.

Combined, the two-horse tandem of Goulet and Garvey ran for 205 yards on a stingy Nashoba defense, beating them at the point of attack not with power or size, but deception.

"It's really tough to stop," Tucker said. "You ask younger kids and your backups a look in practice, and it's hard to simulate. Marlborough's offensive line really gets off the ball well, they take people down low, and it's a tough play to stop because it happens so quickly. And then they run the option off of it, which we did a pretty good job on, but we didn't do as good a job on the dive as we had hoped to."

Backchecking: The return of Ashline tonight gave the Chieftains a boost at inside linebacker (more on that in a second), but more than that the linebacking corps played the run well tonight. Junior Zack Hume (seven tackles) is turning out to be one of the premier Class of 2013 prospects in Massachusetts, and has received substantial interest from Big East schools such as UConn (NCAA rules prohibit schools from offering a scholarship in writing until the summer between junior and senior year, but let's just say the Huskies are very interested at this point).

"The defenses that we play, both Marlborough and us, are linebacker-predicated, and you've gotta have good ones," Tucker said. "Zack Hume is one of the best around, and we're fortunate that we had Sam Ashline back tonight. He's not back full-strength, but it's great to have him back."

True Grit, pt. I: Tucker said Ashline is "lucky to be back" and admitted he thought the senior captain might miss the whole season with a blood clot.

Ashline plays for the Chieftains' baseball squad during the spring time, and a combination of throwing and lifting may have led to the cause of the clot, which first had him on blood thinners before undergoing surgery on August 17 to remove a rib just below the right side of his collarbone.

He was cleared by doctors to work out three weeks ago, and only last week was cleared for contact. In last Saturday's win over Holy Name, the senior saw action in maybe a dozen plays. But tonight, even though he's still not 100 percent, he made some crucial stops, and most importantly fell on the winning touchdown ball.

"We need him, he's a great player," Tucker said. "Great story, too."

True Grit, pt. II: Panther linemen Steve Randall and Chris Cook both played with broken hands, with a cast covering everything from the mid-forearm down. The good news, as Mahoney joked, is they couldn't hold anybody.

The Panthers dress close to four dozen for their varsity contests, but realistically about 15 or 16 see major time both ways, including Randall and Cook tonight.

"The kids we have playing are pretty tough kids," Mahoney said. "They want to play football, and they're fighting through injuries. They get a cast, they're padded up, and they go out there and play great."

Asked if it's tough telling a kid "No" when they're willing to go to the lengths of Randall and Cook, Mahoney pointed out that they've been cleared by doctors.

"They're football players," he said, smiling. "Football players are a little crazy...and we've got enough of those."


NSH (5-0) 0 7 6 13 --- 26
MAR (3-2) 7 3 7 0 --- 17

First Quarter
M - Paul Goulet 81 run (Alex Tello kick) 10:01

Second Quarter
N - Zach Arsenault 3 run (Brandon Steff kick) 6:59
M - Tello 38 field goal

Third Quarter
N - John Ojukwu 90 kickoff return (kick failed) 10:45
M - Michael Tirpak 39 pass from Mike Yakes (Tello kick) 6:29

Fourth Quarter
N - Sam Ashline 0 fumble recovery (rush failed) 3:38
N - Arsenault 3 run (Steff kick) 2:03