May 24—During his time as a three-sport star at Bonny Eagle High, Jacob Humphrey often was praised by his coaches for his athletic talent as well as his character and work ethic.
No one ever mentioned he was a master thief.
In his first season of college baseball at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Humphrey has stolen 45 bases — placing him second in the nation among NCAA Division I players.
Only once this season has Humphrey been caught stealing.
"He was safe, too, on that one. His chest was on the base and the umpire was out of position. He should be perfect," said UMass-Lowell Coach Ken Harring.
Humphrey trails only Johnathan Thomas of Texas Southern, who has 62 steals in 70 attempts. Among players with more than 20 steals, only Enrique Bradfield Jr. of Vanderbilt, who is 42-for-42, has a better mark than Humphrey's 97.8 percent success rate.
"He's got the green light and as the season has progressed he's learned how to read pitchers better and he steals third at will," Harring said. "And the threat of him stealing makes the pitchers throw more fastballs and that's given the hitters behind him some fat pitches as well."
Humphrey will look to be on the move this week when UMass Lowell enters the America East Conference tournament at the University of Maine, with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line. UMass Lowell, the No. 4 seed, opens the tournament at 11 a.m. Wednesday against No. 5 University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
UMaine, the No. 1 seed, has a bye to Thursday. The Black Bears will play the lower seed of the winners of Wednesday's games between UMass Lowell and UMBC and No. 3 New Jersey Institute of Technology versus No. 6 Hartford. The tournament concludes Saturday.
"It should be a great tournament," said Humphrey, 19, of Standish. "All the teams are good. They all have great pitching. It's going to come down to who shows up, who hits, who pitches, who comes up with the big hits."
Humphrey has started and played in 52 of his team's 53 games. He leads the River Hawks in batting average (.337) and runs scored (50) and is second on the team with a .456 on-base percentage. He's also shown some pop, with six doubles, three triples and two home runs. His first collegiate hit was a homer, breaking an 0-for-10 start to the season.
On Tuesday, Humphrey was named a second-team all-America East outfielder and to the conference's all-Rookie team.
"I'm just trying to get on base because the dudes we've got behind me can definitely bring me in," Humphrey said.
As a senior last spring at Bonny Eagle, Humphrey was a Varsity Maine All-State selection and a finalist for the John Winkin Award after hitting .477. He was also 13 for 13 in stolen base attempts.
Neither Humphrey nor Harring expected him to make such a big impact in his true freshman season, which has included being named the conference Rookie of the Week three times.
"I was supposed to redshirt this whole year," he said.
Harring said he knew he wanted Humphrey on his team "within five minutes" of seeing him play in the summer of 2020. The coach was able to watch Humphrey during the COVID summer, when recruiting was off-limits, because his son, Jake Harring, was on the same Maine Lightning club team.
But Harring wasn't sure he'd be able to find Humphrey enough playing time. Because Humphrey is a strong student — he has a 3.6 GPA in plastics engineering — Harring pitched the idea that he could sit this year and have his master's degree by the time his four years of eligibility was finished.
"Then he was the MVP of our fall season, led the team in hitting, and I just sat down with our staff and said I think we're doing a disservice to our team if we redshirt him," Harring said.
Humphrey is quick to credit his older teammates for helping him pick up tips and tricks on reading pitchers to get better jumps on the bases. One example of a visual trick Humphrey now uses is to take an initial lead that's bigger than he wants. Then when the pitcher looks over, "you take a little step back," lulling the pitcher into a false sense of security.
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Humphrey has also had to learn a new position. A middle infielder in high school, he has played some second base for Lowell, but his primary position has been right field.
"The older guys, they've taught me so much," he said.
Bonny Eagle baseball coach John McGlinn said Humphrey began playing in the outfield last summer, anticipating he might need to switch positions to crack Lowell's lineup.
"I've never seen a kid make a transition so seamlessly," McGlinn said. "The way he was gliding to balls in center field and the reads he was getting of the bat. It's a credit to what kind of athlete he is but it shouldn't be that easy."
McGlinn took over at Bonny Eagle for Humphrey's senior season, but he was already well aware of what Humphrey could do — across multiple sports.
"It's watching him in high-stress or high-pressure situations," McGlinn said. "There's some guys that rise to the occasion. Some guys kind of wither to the occasion. This kid not only rises, he finds ways to take over the occasions."
At Bonny Eagle, Humphrey was a sophomore starter and tenacious defender on the Scots' basketball team that reached the Class AA championship game in 2019
As a junior, Humphrey played football for the first time since sixth grade. His interception and touchdown catch late in the second quarter helped pave the way to Bonny Eagle's 34-21 Class A championship win against Thornton Academy.
But it was on the diamond where Humphrey always felt most comfortable, even if Bonny Eagle didn't have the same level of success in that sport.
"I grew up loving baseball," he said. "I thought about maybe playing football and baseball in college but I really love baseball and I knew if I wanted to play, I just wanted to give my all to it."
That effort has not only paid off with a strong freshman season but also more baseball opportunities. Humphrey will play this summer for the Sanford Mainers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He has already received an invitation to play in 2023 in the Cape Cod League.
"He's a student of the game," Harring said. "If he does something wrong one time, it doesn't happen again."