By David Auffenberg
Boston College's Campus
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, the Boston College Eagles were dealing with so much adversity that a .500 record seemed almost ambitious for first-year head coach Frank Spaziani. BC's starting quarterback had transferred, ACC defensive player of the year Mark Herzlich received a devastating cancer diagnosis, and several team stalwarts, including BJ Raji and Ron Brace, had moved onto the NFL. So what did BC do? Behind their stingy defense and the steady production of running back Montel Harris, the Eagles admirably tallied an 8-4 regular season record and earned a trip to the Emerald Bowl against USC. Although it wasn't always pretty, BC once again proved their doubters wrong and grinded out another winning season.
Without so much off-the-field disappointment this summer, Spaziani was instead able to focus on his returning squad and the season that lies ahead. There is perhaps no bigger story throughout the entire ACC than the return of Mark Herzlich to the football field after a year of cancer treatments. While the team is confident in Herzlich returning to his former level of play, his emotional presence and leadership alone will provide tremendous value. The offense looks to take a big step in 2010 as the returnees will be more familiar with second year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill's system, while the defense should remain the team's bread and butter. If the Eagles stay healthy and take advantage of their favorable schedule, they should absolutely contend for the Atlantic Division title. Let's break it down position by position, and then take a stab at the season outlook.
Sitting atop the depth chart at quarterback is 26 year-old David Shinskie, dubbed "Uncle Dave" by the team last season. After a seven-year hiatus from football, Shinskie returned to the gridiron last fall and earned the starting spot. He had his struggles on the road, and his 14 interceptions were a bit high, but Shinskie performed well for a freshman after such a long layoff. Look for Shinskie to show progress during his second year, but if he falters, there are three talented backups waiting for their chance. Sophomore Mike Marscovetra played well in spot duty last year, and talented true freshmen Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig enrolled early last spring to get a jumpstart on the season.
Junior running back Montel Harris, one of five returning 1000-yard rushers in the ACC, will again be the centerpiece of the offense. Already a dangerous weapon, Harris became even more of an asset in 2009 after backup Josh Haden opted to transfer. And with last season's introduction of the Bazooka offense, BC's version of the Wildcat, Harris should see plenty of touches again this year. Rolandan Finch was solid as a fill-in last year, but it appears he is out for the season with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Sterlin Phifer should assume the backup role. At fullback, senior James McCluskey returns from a torn Achilles and will be looking to pave the way for Harris' 2010 campaign.
Often referred to as "O-Line U", BC once again will boast one of the best offensive line units in the conference. Headlining the front five are a pair of preseason All-ACC first team members who have been named to the pre-season watch list for the Outland Trophy in left tackle Anthony Castonzo and right guard Thomas Claiborne. Castonzo, ranked among the top offensive tackles in the nation, should almost certainly be drafted in the first round of next spring's NFL draft. The Eagles did lose senior center Matt Tennant to the NFL, but experienced guard Nate Richman will slide over and start there. Rounding out the offensive line are sophomore left guard Emmett Cleary and senior right tackle Rich Lapham.
The Eagles lost their all-time receiving yards leader Rich Gunnell to graduation, along with fellow seniors Justin Jarvis and Clarence Megwa. Stepping in as starters this season will be Colin Larmond Jr., last year's primary deep threat, and Billy Flutie. Larmond Jr. hopes to establish himself as Shinskie's go-to guy, a role reserved for Gunnell in 2009. Backups Donte Elliott, Clyde Lee, and Johnathan Coleman will battle for playing time while true freshman Shakim Phillips, one of the prizes of the 2010 recruiting class, will probably avoid a redshirt season if he impresses enough people this preseason.
The tight end position wasn't utilized frequently during Shinskie's freshman season, but hopefully the sophomore QB looks to incorporate this talented bunch more often this year. Last year's starter, Chris Pantale, returns for his sophomore season primed for a breakout year. Lars Anderson, a blocking specialist, and Jordon McMichael will provide the backup duties.
The defensive line represents perhaps the team's biggest question mark. Although a healthy Alex Albright at defensive end will help immensely, the depth chart at defensive tackle is cause for concern. Junior Kaleb Ramsey recently decided to leave school, and senior run-stopper Damik Scafe continues to rehab from a back injury. Senior Brad Newman offers some depth, and underclassmen Dillon Quinn and Max Holloway are expected to contribute, but early indications are that depth on the front four is a little thin.
If the linebackers are the backbone of a team's defense, Boston College has a pretty solid backbone. Not only is 2008 ACC defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich returning from his bout with Ewing's Sarcoma, but BC's leading tackler and last season's ACC defensive Rookie of the Year, Luke Kuechly, is another member of this crew. Mike Morrissey, a former walk-on, also returns as a starter. Should Herzlich not be able to play every down, defensive coordinator Bill McGovern has plenty of options. Nick Clancy, Will Thompson, and Darius Bagan all gained experience last year, and standout freshman Kevin Pierre-Louis is another early enrollee looking to make a name for himself.
Half of the 2009 Eagles' starting defensive backs, strong safety Marcellus Bowman and cornerback Roderick Rollins, are gone. However, four talented players are vying for those two vacant secondary spots. At cornerback, either DeLeon Gause or Donnie Fletcher will likely line up opposite of starter Isaac Johnson. And it appears that experienced sophomore Jim Noel and converted linebacker Dominick LeGrande are in a stiff competition for the strong safety position. Senior captain Wes Davis, last year's leader in interceptions, returns for his final season as free safety.
For the first time since 2006, BC all-time points leader Steve Aponavicius will not be the team's kicker. All-ACC honorable mention punter Ryan Quigley returns, and while it is possible that he could assume both duties, redshirt freshman Nate Freese is another option at kicker. Long-snapper Sean Flaherty and holder Billy Flutie are both back, and DeLeon Gause should handle the majority of the returns.
Although the Eagles have far fewer question marks entering this season compared to a year ago, they still have some areas to sort out if they are to contend for an ACC title. First and foremost is selecting the best quarterback to lead this team. If Dave Shinskie represents our best option then he should start, but Spaziani shouldn't let the other quarterbacks' youth be an obstacle to assuming the starting job. After all, Shinskie was a true freshman last season. Elsewhere on the offensive side of the ball, the receivers need to step up and fill the shoes of the departed seniors. It is no secret that the running game is the foundation of BC's offense, but we will need to balance that with an adequate pass attack to keep opposing defenses guessing. Defensively, finding a stable and reliable rotation on the front line will be essential to keeping us in most games.
Last season, the Eagles sometimes looked like a different team when playing on the road. With three of our four regular season losses coming away from Alumni Stadium, the Eagles frequently struggled to establish a rhythm during those games. Luckily, the home schedule shapes up nicely in 2010 as Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Notre Dame all have to travel through Chestnut Hill. Perhaps the most meaningful game of the year comes on October 16th, when the Eagles travel to Tallahassee to square off with Florida State and their Heisman-candidate quarterback Christian Ponder. An upset of the Seminoles could have serious implications for the Atlantic Division title. But as long as BC stays true to their style of hard-nosed football, look for them to be right near the top of the standings come December.
|Head Coach Frank Spaziani|
Named Boston College's 34th head coach on
January 13, 2009, longtime Eagle assistant
Coach Frank Spaziani made his first season as
head of the Eagles football program a successful
one. Spaziani guided BC picked by the media
to finish last in the Atlantic Division in its annual
preseason ACC Kickoff poll to a secondplace
Atlantic finish, an 8-5 overall record and
a berth in the 2009 Emerald Bowl. That he accomplished
this in his first year as a head coach
was impressive. That he did it without the services
of the ACC's 2008 Defensive Player of the Year--Mark Herzlich who sat out the
season recuperating from cancer and with a starting a true freshman quarterback-
Dave Shinskie who did not see campus until June, was nothing short of remarkable.
Under Spaziani's guidance, running back Montel Harris recorded the
6th best single season rushing effort in ACC history (1,457 yards) and freshman
linebacker Luke Kuechly was named the National Defensive Rookie of the Year
by Rivals.com after finishing 2nd nationally in tackles per game. Though a first year
head coach, Spaziani was far from a newcomer to BC. The 2009 season was
Spaziani's 13th year on the BC coaching staff, having spent his first two seasons
as the Eagles' running backs coach and the next 10 as defensive coordinator. Under
Spaziani's guidance, the Eagles consistently fielded one of the top defenses in
college football. In 2008, the Eagles ranked in the top 10 in the nation in seven
defensive categories. In 2007 Spaziani's defense ranked second in the nation and
led the ACC in rushing defense, allowing just 75.5 yards per game. That year,
Spaziani was part of a staff that led the Eagles to an 11-3 finish, the first BC
team to win 11 games since 1940. The 2007 Eagles began the season 8-0 and
were ranked No. 2 in the nation in both major polls. The team won the Atlantic
Division of the ACC and went on to win an eighth consecutive bowl game, at
the time, the longest active bowl game winning streak in America. Spaziani was
credited with BC's 25-24 win over Navy in the 2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl as
he served as Interim Head Coach following the departure of Tom O'Brien. In
2006, Boston College led the ACC with five defensive touchdowns. In 2005, BC
led the ACC in rushing defense (90.8 ypg.) and red zone defense (25-39, 64.1%)
and was third in scoring defense (15.9 ypg.). The 2004 Eagles were ranked in the
top 10 nationally in scoring defense, top 20 in rushing defense and top 25 in pass
efficiency defense. Spaziani joined the BC coaching staff after three seasons with
the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. During his coaching
tenure at Calgary, he served two seasons as the defensive coordinator. Prior to
his coaching stint at Calgary, he served as the defensive coordinator for two years
with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Spaziani spent nine years as a member of the
Virginia coaching staff, where he was defensive coordinator for his last five seasons
in Charlottesville, after having been defensive backs coach for the first four.
Spaziani has been a member of coaching staffs for teams that have reached 20
bowl games. A 1969 graduate of Penn State, he was a star defensive end on the
Nittany Lions teams that tied Florida State in the 1967 Gator Bowl and defeated
Kansas in the 1969 Orange Bowl. He began his coaching career in 1969 as a
graduate assistant to Joe Paterno at Penn State. After three years as an assistant
high school coach, he became head coach at Hempstead (N.Y.) High School in
1973, and, a year later, at Raritan (N.J.) High. He joined head coach George
Welsh as an offensive assistant at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1975 and went with
Welsh from Annapolis to Virginia in 1982. Frank and his wife, the former Laura
Heikel, are the parents of three children, Joseph and twins Avery and Andrew.||
|Spet. 4||Weber State (EPSN3.com, 1:00 p.m.)|
|Sept. 11||Kent State (ESPNU, 3:30 p.m.)|
|Sept. 25||Virginia Tech|
|Oct. 2||Notre Dame|
|Oct. 9||at NC State|
|Oct. 16||at Florida State|
|Nov. 6||at Wake Forest|
|Nov. 13||at Duke|
|Nov. 27||at Syracuse|
Though a pre-season pick to finish last in the ACC's
Atlantic Division, Boston College posted an 8-5 overall
record and a 5-3 ACC mark earning a berth in the Emerald
Bowl its 11th straight bowl trip against Southern
California in Head Coach Frank Spaziani's first
season. The Eagles tied for 2nd place in the Atlantic
Division despite not having the services of 2008 ACC
Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich, who
sat out the entire year while undergoing treatment for
Ewings' Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. BC ranked
19th nationally in scoring defense and 14th in defense
against the run, led by ACC Defensive Rookie of the
Year Luke Kuechly, who ranked 2nd nationally and
led the ACC in tackles per game, averaging 12.15 per
contest. Sophomore TB Montel Harris finished 2nd
in the ACC in rushing and 18th nationally with 1,457
yards, the 4th highest mark in BC history. C Matt Tennant
was named 2nd-team All-America by the Walter
Camp Foundation...Kuechly and T Anthony Castonzo
earned first-team All-ACC honors, while Harris and
Tennant were second-team All-ACC. Kuechly, Rivals'
National Defensive Freshman of the Year was named
a first-team Freshman All-America by the FWAA, Rivals,
The Sporting News and Scout.com. TE Chris
Pantale was named a 2nd team Freshman All-America
by CFN. WR Rich Gunnell was an Honorable Mention
All-ACC pick, as were G Thomas Claiborne and
P Ryan Quigley (40.8). PK Steve Aponavicius completed
his career as BC's all-time leading scorer (290).
Boston College loses nine starters three on offense,
five on defense and four-year PK Steve Aponavicius.
Offensively the Eagles will have to replace C Matt
Tennant, both starting WRs in Gunnell and WR Justin
Jarvis. Defensively, BC loses five starters who combined
for 122 career starts led by run-stuffi ng LB Mike
McLaughlin, but also including DE Jim Ramella, DT
Austin Giles, CB Roderick Rollins and SS Marcellus
Spaziani will welcome back 16 starters and 44 lettermen,
8 starters on offense and 7 on defense. Defensively,
BC should be boosted by the return of Herzlich.
Prior to his illness, Herzlich was expected to be a strong
candidate for National Defensive Player of the Year
honors, and a priority will be to see if he can return to
the form which made him the ACC's 2008 Defensive
Player of the Year. Joining him on defense will be Kuechly
who developed into a force in his first collegiate
season, making 158 tackles on the year including 51
hits in his last three games as well as five other senior
starters in DE Alex Albright, DT Damik Scafe, LB
Mike Morrissey and two key members of the secondary
in S Wes Davis and CB DeLeon Gause. Defensive
Coordinator Bill McGovern's scheme utilizes a lot of
players and 2009 reserves such as CB Donnie Fletcher
(51 tackles), DE Brad Newman (45 tackles), SS Dominick
LeGrande (36 tackles), LB Will Thompson and
CB Isaac Johnson (27 tackles), all saw signifi cant
playing time. Offensively, BC should be improved
with the return of Harris, who already ranks 9th on the
all-time BC rushing list with 2,357 career yards in just
two seasons. Sophomore Dave Shinskie, the 26-year old
former minor league baseball player, returns as the
starter at quarterback after throwing for 2,049 yards and
15 TDs last year. Protecting him will be four returning
starters on the offensive line, led by all-star candidates
T Anthony Castonzo, an Outland Trophy and Lombardi
Award candidate, and G Thomas Claiborne, as
well as T Rich Lapham and G Nathan Richman, who
will start at center this fall. Sophomore Chris Pantale
(25 catches) and junior Lars Anderson (8 catches) return
at tight end, with sophomore WR Colin Larmond,
Jr. (29 catches), leading a receiving corps that also includes
senior WR's Billy Flutie and Ryan Lindsey,
and freshman Jonathan Coleman.
4 - Four Boston College standouts are prominent
on pre-season watch lists for national awards this
year. Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo is on
both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy lists,
while guard Thomas Claiborne is on the pre-season
Outland Trophy watch list. Linebackers Mark
Herzlich and Luke Kuechly are both on the watch
lists for the Lombardi and Nagurski Awards.
5.34 - The TV rating for Boston College's Emerald
Bowl game against Southern California this
past December. The game was ESPN's third mostviewed
bowl game ever, drawing an audience of
5,289,014 households and its most viewed game
14 - Over the past six seasons, or since the start of
the 2004 campaign, Boston College ranks 14th nationally
in total defense, allowing just 312.81 yards
per game over a span of its last 78 games.
21 - New head coach Frank Spaziani has
been a part of coaching staffs that have participated
in 21 bowl games, including the last
11 with the Eagles.
41 - Junior offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo,
a second-team All-ACC selection in 2008, and a
member of the 2010 pre-season Lombardi Award
and Outland Trophy Watch Lists, has started 41
straight football games in his collegiate career, the
most of any player in the ACC.
44 - Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference
for the 2005 season, Boston College has won 44
football games, the most in the four-year period in
the ACC with the exception of Virginia Tech, which
has won 47.
103 - Boston College's four returning starters on
its offensive line--tackles Anthony Castonzo and
Rich Lapham as well as guard Thomas Claiborne
and center Nathan Richman (who started
at guard in 2009), have combined for 103 starts in
their collegiate careers--the most of any line this
year in the ACC with the exception of Florida State.
264 - When TB Montel Harris rushed for 264
yards on only 27 carries in BC's 52-20 win over
NC State last year, it marked the highest rushing
total for an ACC running back for the year and the
8th-highest single-game rushing total by an ACC
back in history.