Steve Addazio has a type.
He likes his guys dudely, his Smuckers uncrusted, and his victories topped off with a celebratory fight song for good measure. And when it comes to his tight ends, the fourth-year Boston College head coach is even more particular. Throughout his tenure, the position group has been dominated by a different New Jersey native with a relentless work ethic and Bunyanesque build each year.
The program’s fascination with tight ends from the Garden State dates back to before the Dude Era, when Chris Pantale racked up 98 catches for 986 yards and seven touchdowns to pace Eagle tight ends from 2009-12. Pantale would later move on to the NFL, and recently earned himself a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster as a fullback. Soon after his departure, Mike Naples and Dan Crimmins followed in his footsteps, both turning in decent careers on the Heights.
The latest lumberjack look-alike to emerge from the Garden State is 6-foot-5, 258-pound Tommy Sweeney, a walking mismatch for opposing defenses on a BC squad starved for offensive weapons.
As a redshirt freshman last season, Sweeney saw playing time in all 12 games, leading all tight ends with five catches for 68 yards. Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but he became a much-needed safety valve for the passing game over the last month of the season, tallying two receptions against Virginia Tech, two against NC State, and hauling in a career-long 22-yard grab against Notre Dame.
Sweeney carried that momentum into the spring, nearly equaling his totals from 2015 with four catches for 57 yards in the annual Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Game. He spent the summer bulking up and buckling down on fundamentals. After all, it wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he decided his 6-foot-5 frame was better suited for football than basketball.
Sweeney attended Don Bosco Prep, a football powerhouse that won its second national championship and sixth-straight state title when he was a sophomore. Led by head coach Greg Toal, who took up amateur boxing after his college football career ended because he missed hitting people, the school developed a tough, regimented winning culture that has attracted (and repelled) young stars like current Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers.
Perhaps it was the surplus of talent on his high school roster, or maybe the result of being a two-sport athlete, but Sweeney didn’t generate much hype as a recruit. Despite winning Tight End MVP at the National Underclassmen Combine, posting impressive numbers in his senior season, and earning an All-State Honorable Mention, he received only one FBS offer.
For a recruit as low-profile as Sweeney to rack up so much playing time in his first season—and to bear such high expectations for the upcoming year—is a testament to his rigorous training. It also begs the question: How much better can this kid get?
“I’m going to improve on everything,” Sweeney said. “I’ve been working really hard this spring, with all the quarterbacks, on my hands, on my route-running. But still maintaining heavy focus on my run-blocking, pass-blocking.”
Sweeney understands that catching passes garners attention, but blocking—so often a thankless job—is what keeps a player like him on the field.
The job of a tight end requires a dynamic skill set unmatched by any other position—it demands the pass-catching ability of a wide receiver and the blocking prowess of a lineman. It’s a balancing act for Sweeney, who must tiptoe a fine line in order to beat coverages with speedy route-running while also stopping defensive ends in their tracks with size and strength.
There’s nothing outwardly flashy about Sweeney—he is, however, extraordinarily well-rounded. As his coaches have noticed, his tools were not grown overnight.
“What he’s done is his maturity level has just gone up tremendously,” tight ends coach Frank Leonard said. “What I mean by that is his approach to the game, the detail of the run game, the route-running, and just the way he carries himself throughout the practice.”
He’s no longer that lanky teenager with only one offer from an FBS school. He’s gritty, scruffy, and ready to be an elite tight end at the college level.
You wouldn’t have guessed it by talking to him, though. Aside from his periodic hot takes on Twitter—“Jason Kidd is the greatest player of all time,” “Eli Manning is the greatest human being ever to walk this earth”—Sweeney is as mild-mannered and humble as they come. When asked about his potential as a lethal red-zone target this season, he was quick to deflect the attention.
“We got a lot of big receivers, a lot of tight ends, so we can all do a lot down there,” Sweeney said. “We have a really diverse receiving corps this year.”
Diverse is one way of putting it. Unproven is another.
The Eagles are returning a group of wideouts that averaged just 75 receiving yards per game last year as part of the worst Power Five offense in the nation. With three freshmen—Jeff Smith, Troy Flutie, and John Fadule—under center, their passing attack ranked 125th out of 128 teams in the FBS. But last year was a fluke—at least that’s what this team believes.
“I don’t know what Year Three was. No one knows what Year Three was,” Addazio said. “We’re playing with third-string walk-ons, we lost our tailback, you’re just kinda hanging on to your rear end. We’ve duly documented that.”
Now, Jonathan Hilliman and the rest of the running back regiment are healthy and hungry. Now, graduate transfer Patrick Towles and new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler are trying to inject a pro-style aerial attack into a previously lifeless unit. Now, excuses hold even less weight.
No one should benefit more from these changes than Sweeney, who will remain one of the most enticing targets in a system that will undoubtedly improve. Together, Addazio, Leonard, and Loeffler have crafted a game plan to accentuate their most talented position groups: running backs and tight ends. With a punishing ground game, look for Sweeney to reap the benefits of play-action fakes.
Not to mention the fact that wherever Sweeney goes in an opponent’s secondary, he owns a major size advantage. What’s more, he knows how to utilize his length better than most big men. He can explode off of the line of scrimmage, cut up the field past his defender, and contort his body to complete a leaping snag just like his photogenic catch against Virginia Tech. All Fadule had to do was lob the ball up there, and Sweeney did the rest. Sweeney’s numbers may not speak for themselves, but his tape does.
Addazio likes his tight ends to know the play-action playbook like the back of their hand. He likes them to run-block like a bulldog, unafraid to flatten any linebackers in sight. He likes them to look a little scruffy, right at home with a flannel and an axe. And it doesn’t hurt if they’re from New Jersey, either.
Once again, Addazio has found his type. All that’s left now is for Tommy Sweeney to live up to the hype.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor