DORCHESTER, Mass. -- Slot receivers dart across the middle of the field, running backs run track-meet speed between the tackles, and the scout-team defense spreads cautiously out of the box.
There is certainly a different look to the Boston College High football team.
The Eagles typically run a pro-style offense, but with questions at the offensive line, and a healthy stable of smaller sprinters, head coach Joe Gaff is adding a little spread attack to to the playbook. However, he is adamant that B.C. High is maintaining its offensive identity.
“We're still an I (formation) team. We're still a pro style team. We just have a little speed that we're trying to tinker around with and have some fun,” he said. “We're trying to get some guys with a little quickness the ball more.”
Part of the new-look spread attack is junior quarterback Sean Holleran, who at 5-foot-11 doesn't exactly have a pocket passer's frame. The first-year starter airs the ball out, but also looks comfortable running the read option.
“Sean is a good athlete, and there are some guys behind him that are pushing him. Sean is really a great athlete as a junior, and we're really excited to have him out here,” Gaff said. “He gives us a different look than we've had in the past.”
Holleran started for B.C. High's junior varsity team last year and said he's been “studying the playbook all summer.” He added that he and his receivers have been working out together during the offseason. Holleran has particularly good chemistry with Scott Gosnell, who he refers to as “Goose.”
The offensive line, with a list of newcomers, will be charged with replacing Jack McDonald, a hulking 6-foot-5, 275-pound athlete who will play guard for the University of Virginia. Joe MacDonald and Evan Burton will look to step up, while team captain and defensive lineman Rory Keohane will lead the group.
The Eagles will also go through some changes on defense. While B.C.'s base will still be the 4-4, Gaff said that the emergence of the spread attack is forcing him to change philosophies.
“We don't sit in it. It's pretty tough to sit with eight in the box when the other team is running spread on you,” he said. “I think we're going to see quite a few teams in it this year. You won't be seeing the 4-4 much when we're up against the spread.”
Linebacker Steve DiCienzo, who stepped in when Princeton-commit Luke Catarius went down with an injury, is going to be asked to be a physical leader for the team. The senior captain acknowledged that there is no way to replace guys like McDonald or Catarius, but indicated that this year's Eagles team has some intangibles.
“What you can replace is team chemistry. Our team this year is really tight, and that is the difference between this year and last year,” he said. “That's why we struggled a little last year. This year, we're all friendly, while last year there were a few different groups.”
The Eagles will also look for linebacker Connor Walsh and Sean Malone –- a speedy defensive lineman with a motor –- to make plays this year. Malone suffered a separated shoulder during the Eagles' first full-pads practice but is expected back in a few weeks.
After a disappointing 4-6 season, the Eagles are hoping team speed tied with the new spread attack will pay dividends.
“We're going to take things one game at a time.” Keohane said. “I think we'll surprise some people. We're faster, and we're a lot tougher than we were last year.”
BC HIGH AT A GLANCE
Coach: Joe Gaff (second season, 4-6)
Last season: 4-6
Returning Starters: Two
Key Returnees: Sr. DT/OL Rory Keohane, Sr. RB/MLB Steve DiCienzo
Strengths: Speed, team chemistry, athleticism
Weaknesses: Lack of size, offensive line, unsettled special teams
Overview: With a smaller and faster team, B.C. High is going to rely on its athleticism to get by. The Eagles have a tough running back in Rob Harnais, who has decent size and doesn't hesitate when looking for running room. He will work well with Sean Holleran, a first-year quarterback who is dangerous in the open field and can extend plays with his feet. The Eagles have some bulk, and they will need to figure out how to best utilize it when they come across teams with more meat in the trenches. The kicking situation is unsettled, and Gaff is hoping to find a starter during camp. “We have a few guys trying to take that spot right now, so we're still trying to fill that out,” he said. The senior leaders said that last year's team had a few cliques, and that doesn't exist anymore. The Eagles may be able to run past a few teams, but they are going to have to make up for their lack of size with hard-nosed football. “We have a lot of tough kids. Everyone likes to hit, and no one is afraid to bring the wood,” team captain Steve DiCienzo said. “What we lack in size we make up for in toughness. Discipline, toughness and speed are the three keys to success for us this season.”