When Mack Humphrey transferred to Thousand Oaks High from Paramount near Downey in the summer of his junior year, he had designs on starting in the Lancers' offensive backfield.
"Mack," the Thousand Oaks coaches told him, "meet Marc Monestime and Mike Moore, our backfield."
Fair enough, Humphrey reasoned, so he settled on outside linebacker for his junior season. Now, he introduces himself to other team's running backs as a senior middle linebacker. Firmly, and with enthusiasm. "Buzz," as he is nicknamed--more for the sawlike manner in which he cuts down ballcarriers than for his hair style--has 134 tackles.
In Thousand Oaks' first-round playoff victory against San Marcos last week, Humphrey had nine tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack. He did everything but hold the bus door open when the Royals left Thousand Oaks with a 35-6 loss.
"I'm up for every game," Humphrey said. "Some games they try to run at me and I like that. I feel challenged, and that's when I play the best."
Humphrey (5-11, 210) has been Thousand Oaks' most consistent performer on defense.
"Mack's been a good football player for us all year," Thousand Oaks Coach Bob Richards said. "He's very solid."
The Thousand Oaks defense is ranked No. 4 among Valley-area Southern Section teams. The Lancers (9-1-1) allow fewer than 180 yards a game, despite losing eight starters from last year's team.
Humphrey is a primary reason for such a miserly defense but not the only one. Defensive tackles Mike Blanton and Ben Catlin, safety Chris Gann and cornerback Anthony Gonzalez also have been effective this season. Gann, a second-team All-Marmonte League selection last season, broke his left collarbone two games ago, but Jeff Ward has filled in ably.
"I just think the kids have played together very well," Richards said. "And I think defense is probably based on how well you play together."
The addition of Humphrey might have been the glue that helps the Lancers stick together--and stick opposing ballcarriers.
When he left Paramount, Humphrey left behind his passion. Not a girl, but a pack of pit bulls he helped his uncle raise.
"Pit bulls typify my attitude," he said. "That's why I like them so much.
"If I could be with animals 24 hours a day, I'd love it. I think that way about our defense. Sometimes we hit each other harder than other people."
The Lancers, who blew the Marmonte League title by tying Simi Valley, 17-17, the last week of the regular season, are in dogged pursuit of their first Coastal Conference championship.
The next step is against Palmdale (9-2) tonight in a second-round contest at Thousand Oaks.
"The way we feel, we missed one of our goals in not getting the Marmonte League championship," Humphrey said. "Maybe we can make up for it with the conference championship."