Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Unlike in previous seasons, Boston College senior safety Marcellus Bowman understood why outsiders might doubt the Eagles this year.
The best defensive player in the ACC, linebacker Mark Herzlich, had been diagnosed with cancer. Their top two defensive tackles had graduated to the NFL. Their best remaining linebacker and leader, Mike McLaughlin, suffered an Achilles injury that would keep him out for almost all of September. Fullback James McCluskey is still out with an Achilles injury. They were playing for their fourth different head coach in as many seasons, and welcomed in a new offensive coordinator.
And none of the quarterbacks on the roster had ever thrown a collegiate pass.
“Going through it, I mentioned to a couple of my teammates, ‘If I’d seen this happen to another team, I’d think, geez, it’s going to be a down, rebuilding year for them,’ too,” said Bowman.
But this didn’t happen to another team. It happened to Boston College. And by looking at the Eagles’ 3-1 record, you’d never know it. Boston College heads into Saturday’s home game against Atlantic Division opponent Florida State with less speed and athleticism, but it didn’t matter in last year’s 27-17 road win over the Noles, and odds are it won’t matter on Saturday.
Over the past four seasons, Boston College has proven that it doesn’t seem to matter who the coach is -- or the quarterback for that matter -- the Eagles continuously find a way to prove their doubters wrong. They did it with Tom O’Brien and Matt Ryan, they did it with Jeff Jagodzinski and Chris Crane, and now they’re doing it again with first-year coach Frank Spaziani and a 25-year-old quarterback who came out of left field. (Or, more specifically, off the pitchers’ mound.)
“We have confidence in ourselves,” said senior wide receiver Rich Gunnell, who, like his team is too often overlooked, despite the fact he entered this year as the ACC’s active leader in career receptions and receiving yards. “We know every year coming in that we’re the underdogs, we’re under the radar. No one really pays attention to us, but we work hard week in and week out and win games.
“When we win games it always seems to be a surprise, but it’s not a surprise to us, because we work so hard during the summer, during the offseason and during the winter. So when it comes time to game time, we’re prepared.”
It’s still too early to determine how good the Eagles can be, and Spaziani is quick to point out they haven’t proven anything yet -- not with wins against pushover teams like Northeastern and Kent State. The 27-24 overtime win over Wake Forest this past Saturday, though, opened some eyes.
“I’ve found out that we have a little bit more emotion in us than we have shown in the past,” Spaziani said. “I found out there is a little bit more leadership there than we have seen. We knew it was there but we finally have seen it.
“We expect to win every week,” he said, “and that’s how we play.”
It’s a blue collar, go-to-work mentality that’s trademark of BC football. The Eagles play smart and tough, and more often than not find a way to win with what they’ve got -- even if it isn’t necessarily the better talent that particular Saturday. It’s not like the staff isn’t recruiting solid football players, they just tend to find the guys who genuinely love the game, work hard, and want to be in Chestnut Hill.
“We have a certain type of niche school here,” Spaziani said. “We’re not anybody else. We are who we are, therefore we have to profile the type of people who fit in and obviously want to be here because of what we have to offer. Institutional motivation is a tremendous thing to have. Those are the type of people we’re looking for.”
People like Bowman, a first-year starter who is playing extremely well this year and on the verge of a breakout season.
“They purposely recruit mature players,” Bowman said. “By doing that, mature players generally get the big picture. They understand what expectations are going to be when they come to Boston College, but they also know our tradition as far as being successful. We get doubts and things like that on a yearly basis. It’s nothing new. We handle it like mature athletes.”
No other type of person or athlete could’ve handled it. They rallied together this summer, after Herzlich was diagnosed with cancer, and injuries were a severe blow to an already undermanned defense.
“We just made sure all the younger guys stepped up,” Gunnell said. “As senior leaders we have to bring them along so they understand what it takes to win games.”
It’s a lesson that continues to be passed on to each class at Boston College.