The list consists of two names: Von Miller and Harold Landry. Only twice since 2005 has the national sacks leader forgone an opportunity to turn pro to return. Miller came back to Texas A&M in 2010, and Boston College’s Landry is making a similar call seven years later.
“I said I wanted to be the best player in the country at my position and I feel like I can do that and think I backed it up this past season,” sand Landry, a senior defensive end. “I want to prove I’m worthy of a top-20 pick, want my film to back up my stats.”
With 16.5 sacks last season, Landry set the national pace. He recorded at least one sack in 10 of 13 games. Those sacks often changed games as Boston College, coming off a 3-9 season, clawed to bowl eligibility. Landry shifted outcomes with his seven forced fumbles, the most for any player since 2011 and any ACC player in more than a decade.
His stock might never be higher, and accompanying a 56-10 loss to Clemson in October was the idea of leaving school early. Yet it wasn’t his sack of Deshaun Watson that planted the idea but the news from his fiancée. After the game, she told Landry she was pregnant. The couple will soon welcome a son.
“After that I was like, ‘Damn, I got to step my game up,’” he said.
He began considering his situation, though. The last three juniors to lead the country in sacks all left after that season. From 2005-15, the sacks leader among draft-eligible Power 5/BCS underclassmen has left 10 times. Four have returned. Two of them, Vic Beasley and Miller, were picked in the top 10. Hau’oli Kikaha (second round) and Bruce Davis (third round) also were drafted relatively high.
As a defensive end/linebacker blend, Landry’s draft evaluation estimated he’d be a Day 2 pick, like Kikaha and Davis. With the financial and emotional stability his parents and future in-laws provided, Landry decided to come back for his senior season to make a push for the first round in the same way as Miller and Beasley, who led the NFL in sacks in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons.
“I think he’s just as good as those guys,” said Duke associate defensive coordinator Ben Albert, who coached Landry along the defensive line at Boston College for two seasons. “Great pass-rushers show up on first-and-10 and at the end of halves and games. We saw that in Harold.
“Through hard work, he’s put himself in the situation he’s in.”
The root of that work ethic can be found in a setting among the dense pine trees of eastern North Carolina, where Landry was raised. His hometown of Spring Lake has a population of about 12,000, and football accounted for much of Landry’s time. The town borders the Fort Bragg military base, where Landry had permission from the manager to work out. When his team responsibilities were done, he’d shuttle over to the base.
He wasn’t army-crawling under trench wires, but the soldiers on base tested Landry with their exhaustive workouts.
“In high school, when you’re pretty much the best player, everything comes easy,” Landry said. “But when you work out with them, it’s their regimen. It was tough. It was hard, but it definitely made me a better player.”
It impressed Boston College, which was first to offer a scholarship to Landry after Albert said he “jumped off the film and immediately became a priority.” He was a little undersized, which is why other FBS teams were hesitant, but Eagles coaches identified Landry as the edge rusher their defense needed.
He committed in April 2013, but six months late, SEC teams were courting him. Ohio State and Miami wanted him, as did the local schools. So Landry decommitted, cutting Boston College out of his new top three. Stressing about the decision past midnight in mid-October, Landry committed to Boston College again within three hours.
“I had a lot of different people telling me different things, people saying I deserve to go here or there, people close to me,” he said. “I almost made a mistake.”
When it came to the NFL after the 2016 season, Landry took his time deciding. He thought about his family and the degree he’ll obtain in December. He mulled the draft reviews that didn’t leave much hope for a first-round selection. He considered the possibility of securing his name as Boston College’s career sacks leader.
He came back to school because he wants it all.
“I care too much,” he said, “to say I didn’t try my hardest.”