Bill Hass on the ACC: BC Players Lifting Up Teammate Herzlich
July 29, 2009
By Bill Hass
UP-LIFTING TEAMMATES: It won’t be easy for Boston College to take the field this season without the painted face, big-play ability and leadership qualities of linebacker Mark Herzlich.
Herzlich, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, is undergoing treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that typically strikes young men. But even though he won’t be playing, Herzlich will be around the program as much as he can.
“I saw him Friday night and you wouldn’t know he had cancer,” Eagles defensive end Jim Ramella said earlier this week at the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro. “He’s totally normal, he’s fine, he has a positive attitude. He’s not moping around feeling sorry for himself. I guess he’s kind of embracing it, you know? He’s fighting it and there’s no doubt that he’ll succeed through this.”
Herzlich will attend classes as he finishes his senior year and plans to make it to practices.
“Friday he said ‘I wake up thinking about football and go to sleep thinking about football,’” Ramella said, “so there’s no way he’s not going to make it to practices and things like that. He’ll be real good to help out the coaches and the young players, like another coach. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around.”
Boston College players have organized a fundraiser for Ewing’s Sarcoma research. This Thursday at 6 p.m., at least 60 players will participate in a “Lift For Life” strength and coordination competition. Herzlich plans to attend and fans are urged to come out and show their support. Tax deductible donations can be made online at www.upliftingathletes.com.
There’s really no way to fill Herzlich’s shoes, and the Eagles were hit hard by losses on the defensive line. There’s no experience at quarterback. So it wasn’t a shock when BC was picked sixth in the Atlantic Division, even though the Eagles made it to the ACC title game the last two years.
“Mystery team?” Ramella responded to a question. “I thought we were already counted out, from what I’ve heard. We know we’re better than that; we’ve been working like it all summer. With our losses we can’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to get up and do something about it.”
IRVING UPDATE: While Herzlich will miss the entire season, the status of NC State linebacker Nate Irving is undetermined. Irving suffered serious injuries in a car accident and may not be able to play. But teammate Willie Young isn’t giving up on him.
“I’m telling you, Nate Irving might be on a trampoline right now or riding a bicycle or trying to catch the bus somewhere,” Young said. “He’s always been a competitor.
“His attitude, his approach to things, anything he’s ever done that I’ve been around, he always took a positive approach. If it was a negative, he was able to change the perspective so things appeared a lot easier than they really were. I’m sure he’s preparing to be with us sooner rather than later.”
POSTER BUZZ: Much of the buzz from the players was a reaction to a life-sized poster of Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. It shows him with no helmet, laughing, clad in all-orange jersey and pants. There’s a measuring chart, up to six feet, so youngsters can keep track of their growth.
“It was nice, it brought a smile to my face,” Spiller said. “I was honored those companies sponsored it. It shows the fan base (kind of) that we have; we’re one big family at Clemson. At the same time, I have to realize I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to get ready for this upcoming season. You still have to go out and compete on Saturdays.”
Spiller said he sent about five of the posters to his mother and kept none for himself. He does want to put one up in a special place, however.
“It’s mainly for the kids, to measure their height as they get older,” he said. “I’m going to have one hanging up in my daughter’s room so as she gets older she can watch herself grow.”
Clemson linebacker Ricky Sapp said there was no jealousy among the Tiger players.
“Hey, if we’ve got one (poster) that’s good enough,” he said. “We are excited to have a player like C.J. on our team and everybody recognizes his talent. (Other players on other teams) know how special he is, so he’s got his own poster and he deserves it.”
Wake Forest defensive tackle John Russell said if he had one of Spiller’s posters he wouldn’t put it up in his room even for motivation.
“I’m afraid he would jump off of it and start running,” Russell said.
SEMINOLES HAVE FUN: Florida State players had fun with the poster. Linebacker Dekoda Watson said he kidded Spiller about it all day.
“I told him ‘I’ve got to have one of those and get you to sign it,’” Watson said. “It’s not every day you’re cool with somebody and they’ve got a 10-foot poster. I’m going to make the most of it.
“Even when we’re in the game (against each other) we’re talking back and forth. I may look at him before the play and ask him where he’s going and he’ll look at me and laugh and wink. It’s just a friendly competition.’
Watson said he “interviewed” the poster with FSU quarterback Christian Ponder holding it and providing the answers.
“I asked the poster about the touchdown (Spiller scored against the Seminoles last season),” Watson said. “Was it really a touchdown or was he out of bounds on that goal line play?”
As for the Seminoles’ prospects this year, Watson was upbeat but cautious.
“We’ve got a chance to be great, we really do,” he said. “But we cannot come in there complacent and think we’re going to walk in and a team is going to lay down. Every team that plays us is going to want to beat us and show that our defense is not all that (good).”
UNDERDOGS AGAIN?: Wake Forest, which has won 28 games in the past three seasons, was picked fourth in the Atlantic Division. So does that mean the Deacons will be able to sneak up on opponents like they did in 2006 when they won the ACC title and played in the FedEx Orange Bowl?
“You do like to sneak up on people,” said defensive tackle John Russell, “but honestly, I like to think everybody gives their best and is 100 percent prepared when they come in to play us and they know what they’re going to get. As a competitor you really want teams 100 percent prepared for us and I think they have been. Florida State treats us just as harsh as they do any other team, the same for Clemson and (NC) State. They’re all coming after us so we’re going to get after them and give them our best.”
BOONE CAN FLING: Virginia Tech tight end Greg Boone, who was a high school quarterback, operates the Hokies’ “Wild Turkey” formation, usually running the ball. Checking in at 287 pounds, Boone ran 21 times for 76 yards and a touchdown in 2008. He threw one pass against Virginia – it was incomplete.
Boone was asked if he would surprise a defense by flinging a pass about 70 yards.
“I can throw it more than 70,” he said without batting an eye. “I can throw it 80-85 with a 3-step drop.”
LOVING DEFENSE: Nolan Carroll of Maryland switched from wide receiver to defensive back during last season. He said having played receiver helps him because he knows which routes can be run out of specific formations. He also knows what moves a receiver might try to get loose from press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
“I love defense,” he said. “I love it a lot. They keep asking me to go back (to offense) but I’ve told them I can’t do it.”
What if the Terps design a special play or two for him on offense?
“Then I’ll jump right in there,” he said with a smile.
SEEN IT ALL: Going into his fourth year as a starter, Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis has seen just about everything defenses can throw at him. But he’s not about to cut back watching film.
“Defenses are so complicated,” he said. “They’re dropping nose tackles out (in coverage) and bringing safeties (on blitzes) and dropping defensive ends out.
“My freshman year I probably didn’t know half the coverages or what the defenses were running. I was just throwing to the open man. My sophomore year I probably had a good grasp of it. I knew what was going on my junior year and now it’s just a matter of studying the game and that opponent. When they bring something in a situation, you can always fix your line (to pick up the defense) to take that hit off you.”
NEW HURRICANES: Miami defensive back Randy Phillips doesn’t want to hear any talk about the Hurricanes trying to recapture their glory days.
“We’re the new Miami, we’re not trying to be the Miami of days past,” he said firmly. “There’re a lot of things that we do different from the Miami of days past. They won, of course, but they lost, too. We’re just trying to get it back to winning. All the comparisons to the old days, we really don’t need them right now. We’re just trying to win. We’re making a new name for ourselves.”
CONFIDENCE HIGH: Another player who thinks this year will be special is North Carolina defensive end E.J. Wilson. He believes the Tar Heels can do more than just challenge for the Coastal Division title.
“I think we can challenge for the conference title this year,” he said. “Last year we were there but we couldn’t get over the hump. I think we will learn from our mistakes and be a better team.
“The confidence level is high because people have put in a lot of work on and off the field, in the weight room, the film room. So the confidence level is higher than it’s been in a long time.”
FOUR-QUARTER DEFENSE: While most of the talk about Georgia Tech football last year centered on coach Paul Johnson’s option offense, the Yellow Jackets’ defense had a lot to do with the 9-4 record.
“Once you get a system like the triple option you know that’s going to get a lot of attention,” said defensive end Derrick Morgan. “We played our role on defense, just went out there and tried to do what we had to do.
“The first seven games we came out there and put on some good performances as a defense. Toward the end of the season we kind of, I’m not going to say fell apart, but we were lacking in a couple of categories. We’re trying to focus on getting better and being a four-quarter defense, not just a first-half defense.”
PROMO MAN: Virginia offensive tackle Will Barker was an intern in the school’s promotions department this summer.
“I did a little bit of everything,” he said. “I worked with football advertisements, a little bit of soccer. It’s nice to see what goes on behind closed doors. No one really knows as a player what really goes into events and marketing and promotions.”
An anthropology major, Barker said the experience might look good on his resume if he should ever decide to pursue promotions as a career. So did he get a chance to promote himself?
“I’m always promoting myself,” he said with a smile.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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