NEWTON, Mass. -- Before the season started, Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani gave his team a homework assignment.
If you want to be a captain, he told them, write a letter saying why you should be chosen.
The exercise is an important one, because only someone who really wants to lead will take the time to sit down, compose his thoughts, put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) and produce a cogent argument for himself.
“Being a fifth-year senior I just figured I would write a letter, give it a shot and see what happened,” Sean Flaherty said before practice on Wednesday. “I kinda had an idea of who would be captain … but I didn’t think it would hurt to write one.”
On the contrary, the gesture resonated with coaches and teammates.
“After you read it you went, ‘Yeah, he would be a good captain,’ ” Spaziani said.
But really, the long-snapper a captain?
“Sean’s at one of those positions that you can easily take him for granted, but as a coach … I’ve never taken him for granted,” Spaziani said. “He’s been rock solid since the moment he got the job and earned it and got his scholarship till now. Plus he’s a great leader. He really is.
“It’s unusual that someone would say that about a long-snapper on your team, but he’s respected by all the players. He could’ve been a captain,” Spaziani added.
Flaherty said he thought he could serve as an example to players both on and off the field, since he’s been in the program for five years now.
At 6-foot-2 and 223 pounds, he has a career high of two tackles in a game (against Northeastern in 2009) and earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing in May. He’s working on a master’s in management, and enjoying his anonymity.
“Being the long-snapper, if no one knows my name I feel like I’m doing a good job,” he said. “Unless I make a tackle or something, I’m never really gonna get my name called on the loudspeaker.”
But while the common fan doesn’t know his name, Flaherty’s teammates appreciate his contributions.
“He’s not the biggest guy but he’s in the middle of things on field goals and stuff like that,” center Andy Gallik said. “He takes a beating sometimes, and he’s still out there every day. He gets us going before practice.”
Before the Eagles played Notre Dame, Flaherty said, he was talking to Cleary about what it would be like to score the upset. How the sideline would go wild. How the student section would storm the field, delirious with joy.
Tears would be shed. It would be a moment to remember forever.
Flaherty delivered that same message when Spaziani gave him a chance to address the team during the week before the prime-time matchup.
“Coach Spaz, since I’m Irish, gave me an opportunity to break it down against Notre Dame,” Flaherty said. “I just kinda said those things. I said ‘If we focus, we can do it.’ ”
The message was received, and the Eagles had chances to make it happen but ultimately came up short in the 21-6 loss.
It wasn’t for lack of inspiration, however. Spaziani said he likes to see how a player’s teammates react to who he chooses to address them.
When he chose Flaherty, he said, the reaction was a standing ovation. And the reason for the players’ reaction was simple.
“He’s a leader,” Spaziani said. “He’s gonna do very well. We’ll all be working for him someday.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.