Kevin Pierre-Louis set a simple goal for himself before his senior season at Boston College.
“Just the typical leave here better than the way I found it,” the senior strongside linebacker said. “And we’re doing that so far. “
It would have been hard for the BC program to be in worse shape after Pierre-Louis’ senior year than it was after his junior year. At 2-10 in 2012, the Eagles lost double-digit games in a season for only the second time in school history.
Former coach Frank Spaziani was fired, and a new staff was brought in to rebuild the program.
A large part of that was installing a power run game -- one that has Andre Williams leading the country with 2,073 yards rushing, making him a Doak Walker Award finalist and a legit Heisman candidate -- and renovating a defense that had slipped precipitously under Spaziani and Bill McGovern.
The Eagles finished with only six sacks in 2012, worst in the country.
New coach Steve Addazio and defensive coordinator Don Brown vowed to install an attacking defense in 2013, and though the Eagles still occasionally get gashed for big plays, they have drastically improved their attack-oriented defensive numbers.
After recording only 45 tackles for a loss in 2012, the Eagles have 77 tackles for a loss through 11 games in 2013. That’s good for eighth in the ACC and tied for 21st nationally. BC was last in the ACC and 123rd in the country in that category in 2012.
With 33 sacks -- including four in a 29-26 win over Maryland this past weekend -- BC ranks second in the ACC and tied for ninth nationally ahead of Saturday's season finale at Syracuse (3:30 p.m.).
That’s the most sacks for a BC defense since the 2008 defense led by B.J. Raji, Ron Brace and Mark Herzlich had 35 sacks.
Before the season, Brown set a goal for his defense -- 36 sacks.
“I’ll never forget when he first put that number up there,” said Pierre-Louis, who is second on the team in tackles (91), tackles for loss (9.0) and sacks (5.0). “I was like, ‘Whew, I have no idea how we’re going to get 36 sacks.’ Going from six to 36 we’re adding 30 sacks, tackles for loss on quarterbacks like Tajh [Boyd], Logan [Thomas] ...”
That’s no easily attainable feat. But here the Eagles are, just three away.
“We realized it was attainable ... when we would bring pressures but it would just be a four-man pressure,” Pierre-Louis said. “We were still getting to the quarterback with three or four guys instead of bringing five or six. That’s when we realized that teams are nervous about what we could do on the defensive side of the ball.
“Once we started seeing that, we started getting a little bit of confidence.”
After playing their whole careers in the more reactive style of Spaziani and McGovern, Pierre-Louis said it took a little while for everyone to buy in to the switch to the current blitzing, man-coverage style.
“I can’t say that we had everybody buying in at the beginning of the season,” he said. “There were definitely, probably some doubters. ... It’s normal based on how we’d been doing it in the past.”
With some success under their belts, they’ve all bought in now.
“Now when we go in huddles we’re wondering, ‘Coach, can we run this blitz?’ Or we’re asking him, ‘Can we bring these pressures?’” Pierre-Louis said. “We just want to get after [the quarterback].”
Though the BC defense will lose several key contributors after this season -- including Pierre-Louis and fellow linebacker Steele Divitto (team-high 96 tackles), and defensive linemen Kaleb Ramsey and Kasim Edebali (team-high 9.5 sacks) -- Pierre-Louis believes they’re leaving a good foundation.
“They’re setting a standard for the younger guys and holding them to it,” Addazio said of the senior class. “That’s what’s so important because [the Eagles] haven’t had that in a little bit, so that’s an important thing. That’s how things build, the older guys set a standard, the younger guys see that standard, they lock into that standard and then they set it and your building blocks build your program like that.”
It will be up to the team’s younger players to further 2013’s renaissance.
Junior linebacker Josh Keyes has made plays this season. So has junior corner Manny Asprilla and sophomore corner Bryce Jones. The Eagles are high on true freshman D-linemen Truman Gutapfel and Kevin Kavalec.
And sophomore Steve Daniels has stepped into a starting role in the linebacking corps, which has Pierre-Louis excited for the future.
“He’s a very aggressive guy,” the senior said of Daniels. “He’s going to try to give you his all, pretty much. I’m excited with what he’s going to be doing the next two years. He’s only a sophomore, which is crazy.
“I have no worries for the defense going forward,” Pierre-Louis said. “We lose a couple guys ... but I feel as though we have younger guys who are going to step up and make plays.”
And if they can make plays like Pierre-Louis and the 2013 senior class have, chances are they’ll leave the program better off than when they found it too.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.