DADE CITY — Pasco High's defensive schemes come from the mind of a trained engineer.
The process begins in Tom McHugh's garage where Pasco's second-year coach watches game film and writes down opponents' numbers. There are many steps en route to game day, but the true success of his defense comes down to teaching and execution.
McHugh has a seven-rule process he uses to challenge assistants, using the Socratic method to find holes in his plan. The result is a stellar defense that has allowed 15.8 points per game while limiting opponents to about 200 yards per game.
There's no arguing the task ahead tonight: Tallahassee Godby (11-2) is by far the most potent offense Pasco (12-1) has seen, averaging 426.46 yards per game and amassing 5,544 total this season.
McHugh's players believe if they follow his formula, the Pirates can stop anyone.
"Every little thing he does has a reason, a very pinpoint reason," Pasco senior defensive end Zach Faza said. "Every step, every player and every position means something."
For 17 years, McHugh applied his competitive spirit to an engineering career. He worked on everything from a worm drive (commonly called a CD) to a plastic film camera that was used in spy planes.
McHugh grew tired of the constant travel and being on call 24 hours a day for a 12-year span.
His wife, Susan, once asked what he wanted to do with his life. McHugh said he wanted to coach football. In 1992, he took a teaching job at Stewart Middle School, then volunteered to help with the defensive backs.
"She led me down the path," McHugh said. "Women are smart."
McHugh, 51, began playing football at age 12 in South Florida. There was a 132-pound weight limit and he didn't know any of the positions. He played linebacker and fullback but was drawn to defense.
"We wore green and gold and I don't remember anything else other than that," McHugh said. "It was fun. One time I ran with my tongue hanging out and I bit myself. That's the day I learned to run with my tongue in my mouth."
Defense appealed to McHugh for various reasons. Mostly, he liked the challenge. Offenses posed problems and McHugh had the mind and drive to stop them.
McHugh got his first head coaching job at Weightman Middle, then became the defensive coordinator at Wesley Chapel.
There was no Defensive Coordinator for Dummies book available, so McHugh learned on the fly.
Wesley Chapel assistant Brian Colding recalled a 2003 game against Land O'Lakes where the Wildcats were trailing 21-7 and "getting torched" by quarterback Drew Weatherford and receiver Caz Piurowski.
McHugh changed the defensive scheme at halftime and Wesley Chapel shut down the Gators in the second half for a 24-21 win.
"He was a master at making halftime adjustments," Colding said. "If something wasn't panning out the way we thought it would work at practice, Tom would make the adjustments to stop people."
The 2008 Pirates have drawn comparisons to the 1992 Class 3A state title team. That group also prided itself on stellar defense, yielding just 8.8 points per game en route to a 14-0 season.
Pasco sophomore Jamie Byrd was born in 1992 and his father played for the state champs. Byrd has seen the tapes from those games and said the '92 team supports this one, and recognizes the great defense.
"He's the best coach I've ever had," Byrd said of McHugh. "(My father) says (the '92 team) was very mean and physical. I think we have that swagger."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 580-5315.