The past two Boston College football seasons have ended on completely different notes, aside from the identical win totals. But they both started the same way: with a Week 1 win over a non-conference opponent.
BC won’t have the luxury of easing into ACC play this fall. For the first time since the Eagles flew across the pond to kick off the 2016 season against Georgia Tech, BC will be starting the year with a conference matchup, and head coach Steve Addazio couldn’t be more excited.
“We’re playing an elite team in our conference on opening day here in Chestnut Hill at Alumni Stadium,” the seventh-year Eagles coach told reporters at BC’s Media Day on Tuesday, per BCEagles.com. “It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”
Coming off its first losing season since 1992, Virginia Tech—the Eagles’ permanent crossover opponent—will visit BC on Aug. 31, a game that Addazio believes adds a sense of urgency to training camp. After flirting with a conference championship appearance in 2018, Addazio’s goal remains the same this year. Win the opener, clinch bowl eligibility, and compete for an ACC title. That all starts with the Hokies.
The Most Athletic Team in the Addazio Era
There’s no statistical measure of athleticism, but according to Addazio, this is the most athletic Eagles team he’s had during his tenure. He started with the backfield. In his eyes, BC has multiple “home run hitters”—guys that can shake a few tackles and break one loose. A.J. Dillon, David Bailey, Travis Levy, and Ben Glines all busted out runs of 29 yards or longer last season, and each one of them posted 75-plus rushing performances at one point or another in 2019.
Addazio then transitioned to the other side of the field in the secondary, where he’s projecting Tate Haynes to start at cornerback opposite of Brandon Sebastian, who started seven games at the position last season. Both redshirt sophomores are 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, and—according to Addazio—can run sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash. That kind of size at both corner positions is something that BC hasn’t had the past few years.
Carrying the Torch
BC’s outgoing class was arguably the most talented in program history. It produced the team’s first opening-round pick since 2012, three other draft selections, and nine undrafted free agent signings. As of now, Chris Lindstrom looks like a shoo-in for the Falcons’ right guard position, Zach Allen is expected to be in the Cardinals’ defensive line rotation, and Tommy Sweeney is getting first-team reps with the Bills. A class that endured an infamous 0-8 ACC slate helped pilot BC’s first return to the AP Poll since 2008. And their teammates took note.
“Last year’s class did an unbelievable job of really, really pushing that rock over the top, right?” Addazio explained to reporters. “Every class had a role, but last year pushed it over the top. This year’s class wears that like a badge of honor, and that trickles down.”
Monitoring Dillon’s Workload
Dillon missed two games and left four more early with a left ankle injury last year. Even when he was far from 100 percent, he still managed a heavy workload. All in all, the sophomore ended the year carrying the ball 28 or more times on four separate occasions. Entering 2019, Addazio says that the coaching staff will monitor Dillon’s rushing volume, but that’s not to say that they’ll hesitate to ride the 6-foot-1, 251-pound back when necessary.
“There are going to be games where he’s going to just—you know, if he’s healthy, he’s going to carry a huge load,” Addazio said. “That’s what great tailbacks do. But we will be conscious and pick and choose, and, of course, you need that depth.”
Addazio emphasized that the Eagles’ running back room is loaded, pointing out that Bailey is one year older and wiser—not to mention that he’s dropped weight and added speed. He also praised Levy and Glines, pointing to their field vision and pass-catching capabilities.
Addazio knows that last season was difficult for Dillon. A nagging ankle injury spoiled Heisman Trophy expectations. But Addazio sees the 2018 campaign as a year of maturation for his star running back, a season where he got better at “handling the peaks and the valleys.”
Why Addazio Hired Mike Bajakian as His New OC
Mike Bajakian certainly had a leg up on other candidates because of his resume—the Eagles’ new offensive coordinator spent the last four years developing Jameis Winston and coaching fabled backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. But it was his character that sold an old-school Addazio.
Bajakian grew up in River Vale, N.J., and attended Bergen Catholic High School, a hotspot for BC recruits. Slowly but surely he made his way up the recruiting ladder, getting his feet wet in the high school game before eventually serving as a grad assistant, then a quarterbacks coach, and then an offensive quality control and wide receivers coach for the Chicago Bears. Twelve years in, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Central Michigan—a position he would also hold at Cincinnati and Tennessee before leaving for Tampa Bay. It’s that gradual ascent that Addazio admires so much.
It was also extremely important to him that he maintained a high level of quarterback expertise on his coaching staff. After Scot Loeffler left to coach Bowling Green, Addazio knew that he needed someone that could further develop his signal callers, namely Anthony Brown, and expand the passing game. Oh, and help BC convert third downs—the Eagles were 114th in the country last year on third down (converted just 33.9 percent of the time).
Vrabel to Start at LT, Addazio Sees NFL Talent Up and Down the O-Line
“Some positions we’re deeper than others,” Addazio said. “Some we can handle better if we get a rash of injuries, and some maybe we couldn’t.”
The Eagles’ offensive line is one of those position groups that could weather any storm. While BC lost Lindstrom, Aaron Monteiro, and Jon Baker, it has a slew of young linemen ready to step up, most notably Tyler Vrabel, who Addazio says will be starting at left tackle this year and could be holding down the blind side for the next three, too.
“First of all, he loves ball,” Addazio said. “This is a guy that loves ball. He comes from a dad that loves ball, and he loves ball. He’s so classic ‘us,’ you know what I mean? Here is an under recruited guy who had a great passion for football.”
Vrabel—the son of Titans head coach and former Patriots star Mike Vrabel—appeared in two games last year before redshirting the 2018 season. Standing 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, the Bellaire, Texas, native has quick feet and will move along the line well, accompanying the likes of Ben Petrula and Alec Lindstrom. Addazio also brought up John Phillips, a graduate student who is an anchor of sorts for the O-Line. Altogether, he sees five or six of his current offensive linemen in the NFL someday. For Addazio, winning starts up front.
Featured Image Courtesy of BC Athletics