FARMINGTON — The Mt. Blue High School football team’s Hudl page lists Zack Delano at 5-foot-8, 180-pounds. Delano says he’s more like 5-11, 210. The point is, he’s not football-big, especially for a defensive end.

“I’ve always been a big proponent of, football isn’t about size, it’s about speed and intensity. Zack has that in spades,” Mt. Blue coach Scott Franzose said.

Across the Pine Tree Conference Class B this fall, offensive tackles of all sizes have learned how little Delano cares for how big he may or may not be. Playing in seven of Mt. Blue’s eight regular season games, Delano established himself as a force, with 81 tackles and a conference-leading 15 sacks.

“I’ve had a lot of linemen look across at me I can tell they don’t think I’m anything. I definitely try to use my speed as a threat,” Delano said prior to Thursday’s practice. “I try to make sure they know at the first play, it’s not going to be an easy game.”

Delano and the Cougars finished the regular season with a 5-3 record, earning the No. 7 seed in the Class B North playoffs. They’ll play a quarterfinal game at No. 2 Cony (8-0) Friday night. It’s a rematch of a regular season game from week one, won by Cony, 35-18. Delano did not play that game, but he’s caught the attention of Cony coach BL Lippert.

“(Delano) has an elite first step that puts tackles on their heels. That is rare in high school football. He has a high motor and pursues the ball all over the field,” Lippert said.

Delano was academically ineligible for that week one game. Franzose praised Delano for working hard in the classroom to get back on the field.

“He got refocused. Hey, kids are going to make mistakes. They’re going to face challenges. The one thing he did, he didn’t complain. He didn’t make excuses. He knuckled down and he got his work done. He was eligible within a week,” Franzose said.

Added Delano: “Football’s always been wicked serious to me. It took a lot, because my grades weren’t that great. I stayed after school and went to every class possible (for help).”

When he returned, Delano had to adjust to a new position. He had played defensive end in youth football, but since junior high, Delano had played middle linebacker. The Cougars had a need for a defensive end, and in Delano, Franzose saw a player with the skill set necessary to play the position, regardless of his size.

“(Delano) has that pure explosion you look for. He’s an athlete,” Franzose said. “He’s got that great motor. He plays to the whistle. He’s got all those intangible things. He knows how to set guys up. He’s one of our best students of the game.”

At first, Delano was hesitant about making the move to the defensive line, and playing with his hand in the dirt. He was comfortable at middle linebacker. This is Franzose’s first season at Mt. Blue, and he knew asking a player with whom he was just building a relationship to switch positions could be tricky.

“I didn’t really want to do it. I thought I was going to new territory where’d I have to use all strength and I wouldn’t get many opportunities,” Delano said.

“It wasn’t kicking and screaming. I think there’s been a trust built there, like with any player. We’re trying to put them in the best position to succeed, individually and collectively,” Franzose said. “He bought in quickly, but maybe with a little bit of reluctance, because he liked playing linebacker. He also sees the results. He kind of got a taste for it. It’s nice to see him having that success and having fun with it.”

After working with assistant coach Josh Newell on technique, Delano embraced his new position. The Cougars ask Delano to take on two-gap responsibility, meaning he could try to beat his offensive lineman to either side. Franzose called Delano one of the most fundamentally sound two-gap players he’s seen.

“He wants to work and get better, and you see the results. Eighty-one tackle, 15 sacks. He’s really that type of kid, if it’s me, I’m game-planning against him,” Franzose said.

If Delano simply excelled at getting to the quarterback and taking on blockers at the point of attack to free up linebackers for a tackle, he’d be doing a good job. But he’s doing more, so much more. Franzose calls it throwing and going.

“A lot of kids will do their job and do it well. They’ll say, ‘Coach, that’s what you want me to do, tie up an offensive lineman and I kept him off the linebackers.’ Beautiful work. He’s the type like, well I’ve done that, now I’m going to chase the football,” Franzose said. “I’m not crazy about seeing my end on the weak side chase that down, but there’s number 34 (Delano) making that play.”

Delano had three sacks in a win over Gardiner. He added four more sacks in a win over Edward Little. His high motor extends to trying to keep his teammates to stay confident, Delano said.

“I’m doing better than I did at middle linebacker,” Delano said. “It’s a rush. When I tackle a guy, the first thing that comes is a smile. A great big smile. A bunch of cockiness comes out.”

Against Cony Friday, Delano knows he can’t get too aggressive. Rams quarterback Riley Geyer is just as likely to run as he is to throw, and Delano will need to help bottle up the middle of the line.

“I can’t get pushed out because they like to run up the middle. I’ve got to stay with my man. I can’t try to use my speed so it’s going to be a tougher game for me,” Delano said.

When he has free time, it’s unlikely you’ll find Delano parked in front of a television or video game

“I don’t like staying inside. Life’s too short for that,” he said.

With another season to play next year, Franzose expects Delano to continue improving.

“No one person is going to set our defensive scheme, but you can have those players on a play to play basis who do become those game changers. Zack absolutely has that potential,” Franzose said.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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