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BC football notebook: Jeff Hafley on UConn, Emmett Morehead, Syracuse

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The score for Saturday’s game against UConn looked close, but looking closer at the box score tells a different story. Boston College outproduced the Huskies in nearly every offensive category by a large margin, Jeff Hafley explains.

“They kept in it, they won in the end. I mean, if you look at the box score, right here, we had 30 first downs, they had 10. I mean we had almost 450 yards, they had 200. I thought we were sloppy today on offense and you think we would have won this game by 28 points, but we didn’t. So we have stuff to clean up. But I’m proud of them. We found a way to win, it’s four in a row, it’s a short week, and we got to turn it around. I thought UConn had a good plan, I thought they played hard. It’s a game we should win when we play and that’s exactly what I told the team.”

Although the score was closer than they would have wanted it to be, but the expectation was to beat UConn, and that’s just what they did.

“We got to clean that game up fast because there were certainly some mistakes made. But the production’s there – its just the little things. It felt like a key moment of a penalty or a key turnover. I mean, at the end of the half we should have went up at least went up with the field goal there, and then you get the ball back at halftime and then you run away with this game. We kept UConn in the game. I mean, it’s as easy as that. And that’s no disrespect. We kept UConn in the game, we made the game way closer than it should have been. Ultimately, we won the game, which is what we should do when we play UConn. And I say that with no disrespect, but when we play them, that’s the expectation.”

To date, BC has the third most fourth-down attempts in the FBS. Saturday was no different as Hafley and the Eagles had another four attempts, converting on three of them. This aggressiveness was not specific to the UConn gameplay, but a season-long philosophy.

“We’re going to be aggressive,” Hafley said. “Then we’re gonna go for it on fourth down and there’s some mistakes that are probably going to be made but there’s some key fourth downs that we’ve converted to win games and it’s kind of going to be that way. We got a really good o line, we got strong backs we have a quarterback who can keep the ball.

“We’re gonna be aggressive and we’re like over 70% on fourth down this year. So that’s not a UConn plan. I did the same thing against Florida State on the minus 35. And we’ll continue to do that.”

On Morehead coming in

Coming out of halftime, fans were alarmed to see Emmett Morehead come onto the field. Hafley explained Monday that Castellanos ‘wasn’t feeling well.’ He went on to describe the belief the team has in the backup quarterback.

“Emmett was ready to go and I’m proud of it. That’s what I said to the team. He was ready he’s practiced really hard. He’s developing, he’s turning into a better quarterback. Everybody had total trust in Him. You can see how everybody was happy in the locker room when I brought him up. I mean, he’s one of us. And he’s done a lot here and he’s in a tough situation. And he’s handled it with first class.

The Morehead situation has been largely kept under wraps. After losing the starting position in week 1, there have not been a lot of reports on the situation and just how the program still views him. Hafley provided some insight.

“I’ve never lost confidence in Emmett, neither has a team because of the way he prepares. And this could have went two ways right? He could have walked away like some kids are doing right now. And he could have said I’m not playing. I’m gonna enter the transfer portal or do whatever people were doing, but instead, he didn’t — and it was hard on them. And he’s been a great teammate and he comes to practice with energy. He gets better when he’s in in practice. We’re not going to skip a beat and we won’t skip a beat if he has to go into the game. The team has confidence in him. The coaches have confidence in him and I certainly have confidence in him and I’m proud of him.”

Bond out, Skeete in

Lewis Bond was also a little banged up, and was forced to miss some time in the second half. This opened the opportunity for Jaedn Skeete to make his debut on the field, catching four passes for 44 yards.

“Yeah, Skeete’s a guy that keeps showing up. He shows up in practice. I think he’s really really talented. And I’m glad he got his moment today. I think he has some of the best hands on his team. He’s got good length, he can accelerate. I mean he’s got a chance to be a really special player as he develops credit to coach Wyatt for getting those young guys ready. Lewis had to come out of the game with an injury and then skeet went in and I thought he played really really well.”

Coughlin speaking with team

Tom Coughlin was in the building Saturday, as the former BC coach and NFL coach was honored in-game. Hafley described the experience of having Coughlin speak with the team.

“Yeah, that was special. It was special. For me. It was special for the team. He hadn’t been back in a really long time. I’ve kept trying to get him here. And you know, they honored that ’93 team today and I think the ’83 team too. And I think that was special for him to be part of that. I mean, he’s a legend around here in my eyes. He’s one of the greatest football coaches to ever coach the game. I mean clearly — gets the job in Jacksonville. I think he still has the highest winning percentage there, goes and wins two Super Bowls for the Giants. He does great things started the Jay fund and has always given back. He’s a BC man and it was a really cool 15-20 minutes that he talked to the team and I hope the players appreciate it as much as I did. So thanks to coach Coughlin for being here. Thanks to all those alumni for coming back. We got to keep this thing going.”

Offensive line

One of the biggest storylines of this season for the Eagles has been the play of the offensive line. Going from one of the worst units in the country last year to a strength of this year’s team has been noted often. Hafley and co. deserve a lot of praise for how this unit has been constructed and executed on a week-to-week basis.

“Yeah, they’re athletic guys. We have guards that can pull like Kyle (Hergel) and Christian (Mahogany) and then when you have a Senator who can do the same thing, you got really athletic guys that can move. So it’s not just as old schemes. There were a lot of gaps came there were some plays we got on the perimeter tossing the ball out there today. Those guys work really hard. They’re gelling as a group. They continue to get better.

“I think the run game has been the main difference, I think protecting the quarterbacks has been a main difference I think our o line last year was it was a different group in there every week. There were guys that weren’t ready to play. It’s hard to it’s hard to play football when you do that but they fought we wound up winning the game down the stretch and then we got a ton of guys with experience and now I mean how many yards to be rushed for. So we rushed for over 200 yards we love for 246 yards today. We’ve rushed for over 300 yards in the last two weeks. So now we’re one of the top rushing groups in in the country.”

Castellanos’ late-half blunder

At the end of the first half, Castellanos threw an interception in the end zone that costed BC points.

” I grabbed him right after the play, that’s situational awareness. You can’t do that. You can’t throw the ball up. We’re in field goal range. It’s the red zone. We have one timeout left. Throw it out of bounds or running. You can’t throw a pick down there. That’s inexcusable. At the same time he’s a sophomore, and he hasn’t been in a lot of situations like that. So the key now is to learn from that so he doesn’t do it again, because that is points. And that’s obviously we need to coach him so he understands those situations which we work on a lot. And he’s got to execute that better and he knows it. And I was proud of the way that he fought back because I thought he played a really really good second half throwing the football. We hit some big third down conversions and then obviously finish it with his legs at the end.”

More on UConn

Was there added motivation against UConn after last years debacle? Hafley doesn’t think so.

“No, I don’t need motivation. And that’s we’re a different team this year. They’re a different team this year. Both teams showed. Did we play great? No, but we found the way to win so they’re happy and they should celebrate. They just won four games in a row.”

Monday presser

12th in the nation for rushing

BC is now the 12th best rushing team in the nation.

“I didn’t realize we were 12th in the nation…I’ve been under a rock for the last day and a half, so…no, that’s really good. We were dead last in the country last year, so we climbed 120 spots or whatever that is in one year. I think it’s a lot of things. We had a lot of guys injured. We had a lot of guys who gained experience, now we have depth. We got a lot of really good players back healthy. We went out and got some new players so we created competition.

“We’re able to rotate guys in so we’ve been playing more players. It’s a credit to the guys. It’s a credit to all those guys who played last year. It’s a credit to the new guys who came in. We got new coordinators and I know we’ve really spent a lot of time in the run game, probably more time in the run game than anything else. Shimmy and Chud have done an outstanding job there and then again, I think Coach Applebaum deserves a lot of credit. He left us for a year, he gained a lot of knowledge in the NFL. I think he became an even better coach and he’s doing a really good job with those guys. He has guys playing multiple positions. They’re very efficient and they’re good players. That’s a huge jump, a huge jump so it’s a credit to the staff and the players. I didn’t even know we were 12th in the country, but we need to keep that going because that’s how you win. That’s what we’re going to do here, we’re going to run the ball. I know it was hard last year, but going forward we’re going to be built on the O-line.”

Health of the team

Shitta Sillah went down mid-game against UConn, and Hafley gave an update Monday.

“Shitta was walking around today he’ll have a doctor’s appointment, so we’ll see where he’s at. Everything else is fairly healthy. Hopefully we’ll start to get some guys back. It’a a short week, so you really only have one padded physical practice (Tuesday) and then we’re 48 hours before the game very quickly. So, hey, whatever we have, we have. We’ve had some unfortunate injuries like everybody else in the country, but I keep telling the coaches you’ve got to get the next guy ready. I told the team you better make sure you’re prepared. Look at what Jaedn Skeete did when his number was called, right? Jack Conley all of a sudden is playing tight end for us instead of the offensive line. Jeremiah Franklin I thought has done a really good job of stepping up. There’s multiple guys I think and we need that. If we’re going to continue to win late in the season, everybody’s hurt on every team.”

ACC scheduling

BC announced their ACC schedule for the next seven seasons through 2030.

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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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DiMauro: O’Brien delivers instant cachet for BC football

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There are few other endeavors that cause the malarkey-o-meter to tilt with greater intensity than your basic introductory press conference.

Often, the participants employ those plastic smiles people wear when they’d rather be elsewhere. They offer more opinions than facts. Meanwhile, gullible members of the gallery, eager for change, will let their agenda overshadow their critical eye.

And then there’s what happened Thursday at Boston College. Not saying bits of the aforementioned paragraph didn’t apply. But there was Bill O’Brien at the podium, wearing his BC tie, talking about his new BC football program and it hit you: This is what instant cachet looks, sounds and acts like.

Instant cachet: A man with the extensive background, but with local ties. A man who alluded to Ryan Day, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft in his opening remarks. A man who won at Penn State. Coached under Nick Saban. The man who coached Tom Brady for heaven’s sake. And yet the St. John’s Prep man with Colleen, his wife, the magna cum laude BC grad of 1992.

Seriously. You couldn’t have locked Fr. Monan, Bill Flynn, Jack Bicknell, Doug Flutie and Tom Coughlin in a room with the metaphorical genie and his three wishes and engineered a better fit for BC football.

And now he’s here.

“I grew up outside of Boston (Andover) with my family, as a lifelong BC fan,” O’Brien said. “A lot of us went to Brown, but we were secret Boston College fans. I promise you when I went into coaching in 1993, I always dreamed about being the head coach at Boston College. My career has taken some twists and turns and has taken me down roads I never could have imagined. But as I stand here today, I couldn’t be more grateful that the road has finally taken me back home to Boston College.”

Now for some full disclosure: Cachet notwithstanding, I was most interested in O’Brien’s responses to transfer portal and Name-Image-Likeness questions. Like it or not, the marriage of those entities has created new rules regarding player procurement and retention – rules with which many coaches have grown uncomfortable. Translation: You better embrace the portal and your NIL collective, because their influence on your talent base will be significant.

Among Jeff Hafley’s best parting gifts to BC was developing a solid relationship with Tom Devitt, the director of “Friends of the Heights,” BC’s growing NIL collective. Hafley did well in the transfer portal before leaving for the NFL. “Friends of the Heights” contributed mightily to that.

“I’m excited to work with the Friends of the Heights group to keep building on what they have already started,” O’Brien said. “Tom Levitt and I had a good meeting yesterday.”

You’ll note O’Brien got the name wrong, calling him “Levitt” and not “Devitt.” He gets a mulligan. O’Brien rallied later when asked directly about NIL and the portal.

“You need to embrace it. And we need to work. It’s called work,” O’Brien said. “You’d have to organize your time, budget your time properly. 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 and you have great people around you. We have great people here.”

Otherwise, I believed O’Brien more when he said BC will be a good situational team (a Belichick staple) more than I did when he said this was his “destination” job. He incurred a wry grin when he was asked if you can win a national championship at BC, delivering a diplomatic answer:

“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 said. “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.”

And then his last words may have resounded the loudest. Bill O’Brien talked about closing the borders. Many coaches say that. But O’Brien can. Know why? He coached Tom Brady. He knows the NFL. Kids who are offered a competitive NIL deal will be drawn to BC more than ever. Instant cachet.

“I can honestly tell you that high school coaches, especially when I talked to some of the guys that had coached here in the past,” O’Brien said, “one thing that’s very, very important is that we do as good a job as we can of putting a wall up around New England and keeping these best players in New England, coming to Boston College. 

“Players that embrace what Boston College is all about. Good football players who care about academics and care about getting a great education. Not letting them go to Clemson or Miami. Let’s keep them at home where their parents can drive 20 minutes 30 minutes to come watch and play right here in this beautiful stadium.”

Mike DiMauro, a columnist in Connecticut, is a contributor to Eagles Daily and a member of BC’s class of 1990. He may be reached at m.dimauro@theday.com or @BCgenius

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