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BC football notebook: Fenway Bowl Media Day, Jeff Hafley, Vinny DePalma

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BOSTON, Ma. — Boston College and No. 17 SMU had their Wasabi Fenway Bowl Media Day on the top floor of the Boston Museum of Science Wednesday morning, as the two sides prepare for the final matchup of the season at Fenway Park.

Finally getting to play in a bowl game, BC hasn’t played a bowl game under Hafley — and BC itself hasn’t played a bowl game under normal circumstances since 2017.

Under Steve Addazio in 2018, the Cotton Bowl against Boise State was abruptly canceled halfway through the first quarter due to weather/lightning concerns. The following year in 2019, Addazio was fired ahead of the bowl game and they got blown out of the water without a head coach. In 2020 they opted out of the bowl game, and in 2021, 40 players tested positive for Covid just days before the Military Bowl against East Carolina. Last year, they had just three wins.

“This means we’re close,” Hafley said while chuckling on media day Wednesday. “I’m going to maybe just go lock myself in the hotel room so nothing happens and I get a chance to coach in the game tomorrow, and these guys get a chance to play.” (Editor’s note: he did not, I happened to see him in the concierge lounge of the Copley Marriott shortly after)

On SMU joining ACC and playing BC next year

One could think of this as a home-and-home between SMU and BC — the two sides play each other next season in Dallas with the Mustangs joining the ACC next season along with Cal and Stanford. And while it’s obviously a bowl game and it’s not at Alumni Stadium, it’s still in Boston.

“Normally in bowl games, you don’t play conference foes. And while we’re not yet, we basically are now,” Mustangs head coach Rhett Lashlee.

SMU comes in 11-2 and riding a nine-game winning streak, taking down No. 17 Tulane in the AAC Championship despite quarterback Preston Stone breaking his leg in the matchup leading up to it. Tulane just lost 41-20 in the Military Bowl to Virginia Tech.

SMU had hopes of a New Year’s Eve bowl after winning the American but as one reporter pointed out, being disrespected by the selection committee likely because of an injured starting quarterback is the perfect way to enter the ACC.

“We’re trying to set a tone for the ACC. It just really is showing a sense that we belong,” said SMU quarterback Kevin Jennings, who is Stone’s backup and made his first career start in their AAC championship win.

DePalma prepares for final BC game

Vinny DePalma will finish his six-year Eagles career Thursday against SMU, as it’ll put a wrap on a very respectable tenure with BC. Redshirting his freshman year in 2018 after three games and suffering an achilles injury that forced him to miss all of 2020, DePalma finishes with over 40 career games played at Boston College.

He had been getting playing time as soon as he got to Chestnut Hill in his freshman year, but he got his first start in 2021 after some injuries in the linebacker room. He started from there on out for the Eagles and was an All-ACC Honorable Mention in 2022 before earning Third Team honors this season.

After ACC media day Wednesday, members of the media were able to speak 1-on-1 with the four representatives at media day from each school (Hafley, DePalma, Donovan Ezeiruaku, Drew Kendall). We spoke with DePalma shortly afterward.

Asked about why he’s stayed at BC all this time, especially with a coaching transition amid his tenure, DePalma responded by talking very positively of Hafley.

“When a new coach comes in, the roster usually turns over a bit,” Depalma said. “Coach Hafley is a defensive guy so he spent a lot of time with the defensive guys. He’s a (New) Jersey guy, I’m a Jersey guy so I think we connected in that sense off the field … We’ve had the same defensive staff for four years and the coaches have been awesome.

“(Hafley) is such a great coach but also such a great person. He’s one of the more genuine guys in the business,” he continued. “He goes out of his way to talk, care about you, I wanna coach one day so we’ve been able to talk about that, and he’s really, really involved in the players’ lives. That is invaluable — not only to have a coach that wants to see you perform well but also cares about you and wants you to see you do well off the field as well. It goes a long way.”

And as for what’s next in store for DePalma, that’s still being figured out — though as mentioned in the previous quote, coaching is something the 5-foot-11 linebacker plans on doing.

“I’m not sure yet, I gotta figure that out. I’ll be in football in some way, playing or coaching,” DePalma said. “I’ll sit down after the game and try to figure it out. Pro Day, whatever it is, and I’ll go from there.”

Going for it on fourth

Going for it on fourth down has been a common theme for Boston Colege this season. It arguably put them back into the oh-so-close loss against Florida State while also giving BC memorable moments such as Sam Candotti’s fake punt, but has also obviously given teams the ball back in less-than-ideal moments — but not nearly as much as other teams have on fourth down.

BC is 28-of-37 (75%) on fourth down this season, which is actually very good — like, best in the country good. No other team in the country with 30 or more attempts surpassed 70%, and Temple was the only team in the top 10 of fourth down attempts to surpass 50%. Quite impressive from Hafley and his staff.

“It’s just been our style of play this year,” said Hafley. “I try to be very calculated on first down. I usually make the decision on first down — if you get me to such and such we’re gonna go for it … It’s really how I’ve tried to play the game for most of the year which has been different than in my past. It’s just based on who we have up front, my belief in those guys, and how I feel we need to steal some possessions and use some clock to find out the best ways to win games.

“I think sometimes I’ve been a little too risky looking back. You have to be careful because if you don’t want to turn over and if you turn the ball over your territory is points. So you can’t be reckless,” Hafley added. “I studied it a lot once the season ended.”

Game notes

  • Christian Mahogany won’t be playing, read more about that here
  • BC is wearing maroon-on-maroon for the first time in the Adidas era
  • 11am kickoff on ESPN, we’ll have live on-site coverage as always
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Joe Griffin enters transfer portal

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Boston College wide receiver Joe Griffin has announced his decision to enter the transfer portal. The news comes a day before the Eagles were set for their spring game which will take place tomorrow, 12pm, at Alumni Stadium.

With leading receiver Lewis Bond still in the fold, along with transfers Jerand Bradley from Texas Tech and Jayden McGowan out of Vanderbilt, the depth chart has seemingly been beefed up surpassing Griffin the opportunity for ideal playing time.

As a freshman, the Springfield, Ma product showed a lot of promise, catching 18 passes for 234 yard and five touchdowns. His five scores were good for second on the team. His sophomore campaign did not see an uptick in production, as his registered a slightly better 25 catches for 345 yards and a lone touchdown.

The former 4-star local recruit will now be on the lookout for a new home.

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Rider: A breath of fresh air

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Over the last 15 seasons of Boston College football, fans have come into each year with a simple hope. One where the team would finally eclipse the 7-win mark. For a magnitude of different reasons, they have not been able to do so.

Steve Addazio could not shake the number seven during his tenure, gaining the moniker “Seven win Steve” due to his almost perpetual 7-6 record as head coach, something he accomplished in five of his total, you guessed it, seven seasons at the helm.

The 2018 was the peak of Addazio’s success in Chestnut Hill as the team reached 7-2, a place in the AP poll and College Game Day made its way to the Heights. Bottoming out losing their final three games on top of a freak-of-nature bowl cancellation left the seven-win mark intact. The following year, 2019, was the end of the Addazio era. Despite a season-ending win that granted the Eagles bowl-elligibility, the Eagles fied

This is where Jeff Hafley entered the fold. With all the pomp and circumstance, excitement exploded from through the Yawkey Athletic Center ceiling, as Hafley birthed a catchphrase the program would rally behind, “Get In.”

With any coaching change, roster turnover is to be expected. Pair that with the Covid-19 pandemic that shook the world at its core, and face of the program A.J. Dillon departing for the NFL. Despite this, the BC community was sold on the new head coach. After Hafley laid out his vision for the school in his introductory press conference, then proceeded to navigate through adversity of the inaugural 2020 campaign. Hafley’s inaugural season was deemed highly successful with their 6-5 record.

“And we’ll be sitting up here we’ll be talking about a lot of great things because in all honesty, I want to compete and I want to win, I want to get better and I want this to be a top 25 program. That’s real, that’s the truth, and it can be.” Hafley continued with his vision,. “I want there to be magical moments and magical seasons, like you guys have seen with Doug and Matt. We need to bring back those magical moments to the heights. That’s why I’m here.”

Similarly to his predecessor, Hafley was unable to bring BC to the next level. Although he had the Eagles at Bowl eligibility in three of his four seasons, he subsequently won six games in each of those seasons. It seems that not only was he not fulfilling the expectations to raise the program, they seemed to have taken a small step back. Hafley’s tenure was mired with frustration, inadequacy, and disappointment in living up to the lofty expectations set by the fanbase. It ultimately was the inability to see the vision materialize, or even give a sense of a palpable path leading towards it in four seasons.

This brings us to the present day of Boston College football and the state of the team, and expectations are once again high and hopeful.

With newly minted head coach Bill O’Brien set to roam the Alumni Stadium sidelines there is a lot to like with this marriage. At the time of this writing, there have been no reports of a mass exodus for the current roster. It seems as though O’Brien will have a majority of the team intact for his initial season. That includes stand-out quarterback Thomas Castellanos, who announced via his Instagram “We staying” allowing BC fans and alumni worldwide to breathe a side of relief.

It cannot be understated just how important it is to get the majority of the team to buy back in, and accept new leadership — especially in this day and age in college football where the transfer portal is prevalent. Boston College administration knew what they had to do to keep the fallout form Hafley’s departure to a minimum, and the quality hire of O’Brien does just that. It instantly allows BC to keep their momentum off their bowl win in December and look to elevate, not rebuild.

Simply put, Hafley was coaching for his job this upcoming season. With the likes of a much more difficult schedule in ’24, the doubt was valid. BC has the likes of a trip to Florida State to open the year, Mizzou, and a Fenway Bowl rematch down in Dallas with SMU. Michigan State is also set to come to Chestnut Hill. This is a stark contrast to the 2023 schedule, which most pundits agreed was one of if not the easiest in FBS. Going from a guy who was coaching for his preverbal life, and in a corner alone, to a guy whose track record speaks for itself and has the backing of an entire community.

O’Brien has already instilled more juice and buzz into the program than any player, coach, or moment has since Lane Stadium went quiet in 2007.

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BC football notebook: Bill O’Brien with a great start to his Eagles career — ‘You can win at a place like this’

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On Thursday afternoon, Boston College introduced Bill O’Brien as their new head coach of the football team. Athletic Director Blake James opened with remarks detailing the search, and what the team was looking for in a new coach.

“We talked to our players, and the players gave us the input they wanted and they wanted a winner,” James said. “They wanted someone who’s passionate. They wanted a motivator.”

With previous head coach Jeff Hafley up and leaving BC so late into the offseason, it was a concern that the candidate pool would not be as robust as one would prefer. As it turned out, not only was there a high level of candidates available, but options the likes BC has not seen before in previous searches.

“I talked with Father Jack as we interview candidates in person,” James explained. “And he grabbed me and said Blake, this is the strongest pool of candidates we’ve ever had for the football head coaching positions here at Boston College. But one candidate stood out from the rest. Who’s the best fit for Boston College.”

Boston College is a unique place. The challenge that is ever present for BC is the academic standards that the university upholds. O’Brien quickly made note of the rigorous schedule his players have with early morning workouts before attending class for the day.

“I don’t know if everybody knows this about the Boston College program right now, is that this is a morning program. So these are young men who get up at 5:30 every morning, and they work out with us. They meet on football. That’s how they practice in the spring. That’s how they practice in the in the fall, and then they go to class. And as the leader of the Boston College football program, that’s something that’s one of the main reasons why I want the job, you can win at a place like this.”

The education portion of BC has always been part of the package. O’Brien embraces that.

“This is a place where young men can come and play good football, get a great education, and give back to the community. And I think that’s what Boston College is all about,” he said. “And so I just want you to know that this is an outstanding group of young men who will proudly represent Boston College both on and off the field.”

As someone who had close ties to the university, it was the values in the university mission that aligned with the new head coach, who plans to continue instilling them in the team.

“We had great discussions about the values of Boston College, faith, education, and service to others. Commitment, integrity, respect, and loyalty. Those are the things that make Boston College such an incredible place and really why I wanted the job. I will do my best every single day to instill these values in our players, our student-athletes, every day that I’m here as that football coach.

“As I already mentioned, my responsibility to this program is to instill in our student-athletes the values of Boston College, character, hard work, respect, and integrity, in everything that we do. We will strive for success on the field and in the classroom will cultivate our minds and our talents and use those in service to others.”

Along with the values of BC, O’Brien outlined what the DNA of his team will be.

“We can win with guys who want to get a great education and play good football in the ACC. In keeping with the great tradition of Boston College, we’re going to be a smart, tough physical football team. We’ve already talked about that for five days. We might not win every game, but we will not be out tough. We will not be out competed, we will be a tough, smart physical football team.” O’Brien continued, “We’ll be a good situational team. And we’ll be a team that plays complementary football in all three phases.”

O’Brien’s next remarks were directed at the school’s former players and alum, and of great value. Last spring, The Heights released a piece highlighting the disconnect between the current program and their alumnus. O’Brien made a vow, and a plan, to earn their trust and support. It’s evident that he hopes they can be actively involved with the current team.

“I want to extend a message to the BC football family for coaches, but especially with players, I have tremendous respect for the history of this program. The great admiration for your loyalty. We respectfully request the chance to earn your trust and support through communication and a tremendous work ethic. You will always be welcome in this program. And we hope you will be a big part of our program.”

The speech concluded with a nice anecdote that had a ‘homecoming’ feel to it. As a local guy who grew up in the Boston area, O’Brien touched on the fulfillment that becoming the BC head coach meant to him.

“As a lifelong BC fan, a lot of us went to Brown, but we were secret Boston College fans, I promise you. I went into coaching. In 1993, I went into coaching at Brown. I always dreamed about being the head coach at Boston College. My career has taken some twists and turns taking me down roads, I never could have imagined that as I stand here today, I couldn’t be more grateful that the road has finally taken me back home to Boston College.”

Boston College has the reputation of being a ‘stepping stone’ school. In short, being a ‘Power 5’ school in FBS makes it an attractive position alone, but the issue BC has had in the past is candidates use their success here to move onto more attractive blue blood schools. O’Brien has the resume and pedigree to follow suit.

With his extensive experience, he views this as a final destination, something Eagles fans should rejoice at the notion.

“When I had the honor of meeting Father Leahy, about being committed to this program, you know, this is a program that does that will do things the right way,” Obrien continued, “Jeff Hafley did a really good job. You know, he did he did a good job here. We need to build on that. And we also need to build on what’s been done in the past year, you know, over time, obviously, you know, having connections to coach Bucknell and Coach Coughlin and Coach O’Brien, you know, no one the success that they have here in the formula that they did, but that’s something that I really believe in. And I can’t wait to get that goal.”

Previous successful Boston College football programs all had similar characteristics. Tough, hard-nosed teams. O’Brien is not looking to change the blueprint, his vision is seemingly to get back to those roots.

“This will be a team that will that on the football field will play smart, will be tough,” he said. “We will be a physical team will be a team that does the simple things. Well, we have to we have to be the team that wins the penalty battles and wins the turnover battle that plays the best on third down and plays the best in the right area. We have to play this situational football off the field. You know, this is a place where I believe that we all in the football program have to embrace what Boston College is and you can do both.

“Boston College is a place where you can do a lot of great things. I am not into the prediction thing. What I will promise you is that we will field a very, very competitive football team with a bunch of guys that will play hard and that will be tough,” O’Brien added. “Will we win the national championship every year? Who knows? I don’t know. I’m not a predictor. I’m not a genie. I’m just telling you that we will show up every Saturday and we will play to the best of our ability.”

He then touched on NIL, and how they’ll embrace it.

“We need to work. It’s called work, you have to organize your time, you have to budget your time properly. And you got to work. And so we’re gonna put the work in. You know, some things won’t happen overnight. Some things will take time, some things will happen quicker, but it’s all about work. I think you can balance it, when you organize it. You have great people around you with great people here.”

Coaching staff

BC made a Valentine’s Day splash on Wednesday, hiring two more defensive staff members. They reportedly picked up Washington State’s DBs coach Ray Brown for the same position and Maine defensive coordinator Jeff Commissiong as the defensive line coach.

Brown spent two years with the Cougars, though before that was with Abilene Christian, Utah State, and Troy.

For Commissiong, it’s a bit different. He was with BC from 2007-2013 in the defensive line role before spending a number of years with Old Dominion and a brief stint with Cornell, which led to his coordinator role at Maine.

HC: Bill O’Brien
OC: Will Lawing
DC: Tim Lewis

QB: Jonathan DiBiaso
RB: Savon Huggins
WR: Darrell Wyatt
OL: Matt Applebaum

DL: Jeff Comissiong
ILB: Paul Rhoads**
OLB: Sean Duggan**
CB: Ray Brown

ST: Matt Thurin**

* * = not clear if O’Brien is bringing back or not

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