They have been playing without him for so long now, the instinct is to say the loss doesn’t hurt as much. Then again, before Tuesday’s news that Montel Harris has been dismissed from the Boston College football team for repeated violations of team rules, there had always been the hope that at some point the school’s all-time rushing leader would return to the lineup.
“There’s a lot of aspects to it that’s disappointing,” Frank Spaziani said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s disappointing.”
The head coach wouldn’t discuss the violations, and when asked how it affects the team, he pointed to the fact the Eagles have already been playing without the 2011 ACC Preseason Player of the Year.
“Once again, he hasn’t been there for a while,” he said. “So we go with the running backs we have.”
Harris missed the first three games of the season after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his injured left knee in training camp. The 5-foot-10, 207-pound running back from Jacksonville, Fla., returned to action against UMass and became the Eagles’ career rushing leader (3,735 yards) in the next game, against Wake Forest.
But the running back reinjured the knee in that game, and ultimately missed the rest of the season. He received a medical hardship waiver for a fifth year of eligibility, and BC’s all-time leader in rushing yards, carries (786) and 100-yard games (22) was expected to make a run at the ACC’s all-time rushing record (held by NC State’s Ted Brown, with 4,602) with a healthy senior season.
After participating in the first workout of spring practice, however, Harris complained of soreness in the knee and was shut down for the rest of the spring session.
Spaziani acknowledged that the Eagles never knew what to expect from Harris during his extended battle with knee problems.
“That’s been precarious at best,” he said of Harris’ recovery. “We thought he was gonna be all right three weeks after the first surgery. Nothing has ever changed on that.
“It was always a very delicate situation and hopefully it’ll resolve itself.”
The Eagles had been hoping for a while that they would get a healthy Harris back. Then came Tuesday’s announcement.
“We’re disappointed but we went through the whole spring [without him],” Spaziani said. “He hasn’t been out there for a while now.”
Asked how the loss has affected the team, Spaziani said: “The team hasn’t been out there, so I’m not sure what their reactions are. ... Their reactions are they move on.
“He hasn’t been out there,” he said. “Ever since he was first injured he’s been in and out. So I don’t have any doubt that they will [move on]. They don’t have a choice. He only played two games last year, right?”
Harris has an effervescent, upbeat personality and a work ethic that Spaziani called “exemplary,” and would’ve been expected to provide leadership for the still-young Eagles in 2012.
Spaziani is fond of saying you can’t just create fifth-year seniors; it takes five years to make one. Assuming his knee would’ve allowed him to get back on the field, Harris would have been a valuable one.
“You can’t have enough, but there’s guys [on the roster] that have had some experience, have been in games and understand what it takes,” Spaziani said when asked about the loss of leadership. “It’s like pitching, you can never stockpile enough experience.”
The coach cited offensive tackles John Wetzel and Emmett Cleary, tight end Chris Pantale, wide receivers Colin Larmond Jr., Bobby Swigert and Alex Amidon and quarterback Chase Rettig as examples of players who’ve been on the field enough to know what it takes to succeed. The first four will be seniors in 2012, while the last three will be juniors.
BC opens the 2012 season Sept. 1 at home against Miami, but the most accomplished running back in school history won’t be taking the field in Alumni Stadium in the maroon and gold.
“I think they’ll remember all the exciting things that he did,” the coach said when asked how he thinks Eagles fans will remember Harris. “What he did was spectacular in a lot of ways. He’s a great player.”
But will the disappointing end take away from what he did at BC at all?
“From your accomplishments?” Spaziani asked, rhetorically. “I don’t think anything can take away from what you accomplished, can it?”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.