UMass linebacker Shane Huber healthy and ready to fulfill high expectations

Last modified: Thursday, April 16, 2015
AMHERST — The initial bending was the worst.

Shane Huber would lay face down on a table after the surgery to repair his torn left knee, as a physical therapist would work to help return the range of motion. It didn’t feel good.

“It was basically torture,” the UMass redshirt sophomore said.

The bending and the surgery seem like a long time ago now, almost as long as the time since he last played a football game.

It’s been over 17 months since Huber had to be helped off the field with tears to his ACL and MCL during a loss to Northern Illinois on Nov. 2, 2013, and just under 17 months since the surgery that came three weeks later. Huber hasn’t played in a game since. He sat out the end of the 2013 season and all of 2014 focusing his energy on getting healthy.

But as UMass participates in spring practice, preparing for the 2015 season, Huber has gone from rehab patient to linebacker again, ready to fulfill the high expectations that accompanied him when he arrived on campus as a highly touted prospect from New Jersey.

“I’m at full-go, full-tilt, no restrictions,” he said. “Coming into the spring I had no mental block. It’s been a year and a half since the last time I was really full-go. I’ve been coming out here and having fun with it.”

Huber thinks he can be better than he was before.

“I feel like in some ways I’m much more improved after going through it,” he said. “I’m more flexible. I might be a little faster. I worked on that.”

Like many players who’d never really been injured before, Huber had to teach himself how to learn by watching. Former defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian moved the high school inside linebacker to outside when he first got to UMass, but the new staff has him back inside in the Minutemen’s 3-4 defense.

“I was moving back inside, but there was no way for me to get repetition there. I had to watch and learn the defense from the sideline. I had to take notes and watch the other guys do it,” he said. “This spring is the first time I’ve really been going. At first I knew what I was doing, but I had to get my body back into it.”

Huber is competing with Jovan Santos-Knox, Steve Casali, John Robinson-Woodget and Vondell Langston for time at inside linebacker. All five are expected to play. Despite the understandable rust, Huber has impressed defensive coordinator Tom Masella.

“He’s had a really good spring. He’s been better than I thought he was going to be after being away that long,” Masella said. “He’s a really sharp football player. He gets it. He just gets it. He makes plays that are instinctive and he’s a good athlete. He’s feeling better and better all the time. I think he’s going to help us a great deal in the fall.”

While Masella hadn’t seen Huber pre-injury, he could tell that the time away from the game had made him hungrier.

“He loves football. When you take that away from him, he appreciates it a little bit more. You only have so many years to play and he’s hungry to play,” Masella said. “He missed it a great deal last year. Shane loves the game. Taking it away from him for a year, I’m sure he’s hungry to be back out there making plays. Some guys you can just tell are football players. He’s one of those guys. You could tell that right away.”

Huber said there was a moment in practice, one play among hundreds, earlier this spring when he no longer felt like a guy trying to find his way back from an injury and just felt like a football player again.

“I had the biggest smile on my place. I knew I was back to football. It was fun again,” said Huber, who isn’t looking back. “I’m really excited for the fall. It’s been way too long. WAY too long.”

BONE MARROW DRIVE — The Minutemen are holding a sign-up drive for potential bone marrow donors from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Campus Center concourse. Participants need only to swab the inside of their cheek to be added to the National Marrow Donor Program Registry.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage