Three years ago, a 7-5 Boston College football team quarterbacked by a true freshman named Chase Rettig was headed for a bowl game. With strong linebacker play but an anemic offensive effort, the Eagles fell to Colin Kaepernick and the Nevada Wolfpack 20-13—and the game served as a harbinger for the two losing seasons that followed.
On New Year’s Eve, in their return to postseason action, the 7-5 Eagles will play the Arizona Wildcats in the AdvocareV100 Bowl. For Rettig and the rest of the seniors, closure is just around the corner.
“We kind of just rode the rollercoaster and we tried to do everything we could this year to tell guys how important it was to show up at every lift and every practice,” Rettig said in a press conference on Monday. “Everything matters when it comes to winning and losing football games.”
Rollercoaster riders is an appropriate description for the senior class, a group that has witnessed both ends of the football spectrum and did a lot more losing than winning over the previous two seasons. There have certainly been lows—Nate Freese’s missed 23-yard field goal that sealed a 20-19 home loss to Duke in 2011 instantly comes to mind. So does the lethargic 21-6 loss to Notre Dame under the Alumni Stadium lights last season. Perhaps most biting is the image of Rettig taking a knee and conceding overtime against Virginia Tech in the last home game of a long-dead season.
These Eagles have suffered the dismal lows that come from losing 18 times in two seasons, but they’ve also reveled in the limelight produced by their return to winning form and Heisman attention. Following last season’s 2-10 record and the firing of then-head coach Frank Spaziani, the fate of BC football hung in the balance. It was Rettig and company who picked up the pieces.
“As a group, the senior class has incredibly bought into what we’ve wanted to do,” said head coach Steve Addazio on Monday. “There was never any waver, never any questioning. It was always complete alignment.”
Climbing back into relevance wasn’t an easy process, and it wasn’t a pretty one. BC’s 35-7 loss to USC and 34-10 loss to North Carolina were ugly, arguably the low points of the season. The propensity to let up big plays stung the Eagles all season—Jameis Winston’s last-second touchdown heave irreversibly shifted BC’s momentum against FSU, as did Rettig’s fumble at Clemson. And the Eagles definitely still aren’t perfect—BC couldn’t hold off Syracuse’s late-game comeback and fell 34-31 in its last game of the regular season.
But every step of the way this season, the seniors have led. From Rettig’s hard-running, body-crushing display against the Orange, to Freese’s ever-reliable boot, to Matt Patchan and Ian White’s constant efforts on the offensive line, to Steele Divitto, Kevin Pierre-Louis, and Kasim Edebali’s defensive leadership, to the production of offensive weapons Andre Williams, Alex Amidon, Jake Sinkovec, and Mike Naples, core seniors stepped up to lead their team and dominate BC’s box scores this season.
“We’ve got a great group of players here today with us, a group of seniors that have really led this team, been unselfish, been totally committed to the season, and really [it’s] very important for them to leave a legacy at Boston College of bringing BC back to bowl games and bringing a very proud program back into the limelight,” Addazio said.
Now, with this group of Eagles’ last hurrah in sight, BC has a chance to go out on top.
“It would just be a great opportunity for us to win this football game, and it would be a great finish to how we started and now how we’re ending,” Rettig said.
But come the new year, a question that’s been creeping below the surface will soon need answering
Who will pick up where they left off?
“I don’t know,” Adazzio said. “I try not to think about it too, too much until this game is over, but there’s going to be a tremendous void. That’s the challenge that lies ahead, is the rising senior, rising junior class developing a personality, developing a leadership style and having guys emerge.”
Along with the core of BC’s leadership on offense, the Eagles are losing five members of the defense. Of the 41 touchdowns recorded throughout the regular season, 17 were passes thrown by Rettig, 19 were rushing touchdowns scored by seniors, and one was a pick six by Pierre-Louis. Excluding plays involving Rettig, non-seniors scored four touchdowns. Including passes thrown by Rettig, non-seniors were responsible for 12 touchdowns.
While BC has a solid recruiting class—No. 37 out of 125 schools, according to rivals.com—and talented younger players including wide receivers Spiffy Evans and Harrison Jackson, running backs Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse, and linebacker Josh Keyes are waiting in the wings, questions about the quarterback position and the future leaders of the team have yet to be answered.
Following the seniors’ finale in Shreveport, La., those questions will come to the forefront.
“You know every year you’re confronted with that, and that’s a great challenge for us in the offseason,” Addazio said. “I think the guys here laid a good foundation, a good footprint for what it takes. The challenge will be there to run with it, and that’s next on the agenda, but we’re going to worry about that on Jan. 1.”