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DiMauro: A time of ‘exciting uncertainty’ for BC football

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This happens at places other than Boston College, of course. Hysterical fan bases use social media to blather, bloviate and bluster, employing that timeless concept of “fire, ready, aim.”

But you wonder if in quieter moments, Jeff Hafley doesn’t smirk to himself at the whims of BC loyalists during the 2023 season. The fandom (me included) went from “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in what felt like faster moments than Jeter used to get first to third.

Seriously. We went from “The Path” to “The Firing Squad At Dawn” in a few days. Three losses to end the season and then news of recruits “decommitting” (when did that even become a word?) turned partly sunny skies into rainy and windy with intermittent hailstones.

Understandable on some levels. The diehards feel like Lucy emerged again to yank the football away, the way Lucy has so many times before. Ah, but today we come with a message of hope. We should stand again ready to kick the ball, even if Lucy is still our holder.

Why? Because this is the most unique offseason (OK, it’s not quite the offseason yet, but it’s certainly recruiting season) in BC history. No other BC football coach has ever faced the set of circumstances Hafley is right now. This applies to every other coach in the country, too, assigned to navigate the changing spheres of college sports.

In the old days – the not so old days, really – upgrading talent took time, especially at BC, where “five stars” might apply to Boston-area eateries, but not football players coming to Chestnut Hill. Still, the Eagles had to recruit high school kids and develop them, hoping for enough people named Kuechly and Flutie to emerge.

But if the transfer portal began to change that process, the portal’s twin sibling, Name-Image-Likeness, has turned the process of talent acquisition from arthritic snail to cheetah. The NIL’s quickly growing significance has created de facto free agency.

And BC, with enough holes to rival the back nine at Sawgrass, will be a willing participant in the free agent process.

“When I took over here, I wanted this to be a developmental program,” Hafley said during a call with the media earlier this week. “There was really minimal (use of the) transfer portal. I wanted to go out, bring in 25 high school players, which is what you could do, and develop them, coach them and by the time they’re seniors, you’re rolling.

“But that’s shifted. Some are going 100 percent in the transfer portal, some are going 50/50. It’s shifted in my mind as well. For this class specifically, which is why you’re seeing a way smaller number of high school players, we’re going to attack the portal hard.”

This is why we’ve reached a time of exciting uncertainty in BC football. It’s exciting because BC’s NIL collective (“Friends Of The Heights”) is growing. Exciting because “Friends Of The Heights” has captured the attention of, shall we say, some people of influence. Exciting because of the ability to bring experienced, physically ready players here for next season. And uncertain because, as baseball fans can attest, free agency is competitive and cutthroat.

“With the combination of transfers that we’re going to aggressively go get, and the committed kids that we want to keep with us,” Hafley said, “this is going to be an awesome class. I’m fired up about it. They’re going to help us win a lot of games next year.”

Example: Hafley has already offered Ohio State safety Cameron Martinez, who is in the portal. Why would a four-star Ohio State kid want to play at BC? Try this: Hafley has an existing relationship, having helped recruit Martinez to OSU. BC’s academic profile may fit Martinez, twice named Ohio State’s scholar athlete. BC has sent two safeties to the NFL in recent years, Justin Simmons and John Johnson III. Would that and a solid NIL offer be enough to get Martinez here?

Program sources say that receivers Ryan O’Keefe and Dino Tomlin are returning next year. Add Lewis Bond and Jaedn Skeete, backs Kye Robichaux and Alex Broome, linemen Drew Kendall and Ozzy Trapilo (among others), and a hopefully improved Thomas Castellanos, and you have an offense that would compete, even without the portal. Many of Hafley’s free agent signings may come on defense.

But this is why it’s exciting uncertainty.

“Right now, most of our players have decided to stay here and stick together and do this together,” Hafley said Monday. “And we’re finally going to have some older people. And we need to be excited about that. … “I think we’ve got a quarterback of the future. I think we’ve got some key players who are going to take huge steps as we continue to go forward. We’re going to bring in some key pieces here to help us win soon. And I’m really looking forward to that.”

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Basketball

DiMauro: All in all, a solid year for BC sports

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If you are reading this, chances are your primary means of remaining connected to Boston College runs through athletics.

Oh, and we’ve been tortured souls, too, especially in recent years. We are idealists and fatalists, demanding yet forgiving, loyal and resilient, even if sometimes it feels as though we make the long trek up the cliff to Lovers Leap … only to get shoved.

All of which makes the sports year of 2023-24 a time to celebrate. Boston College did itself proud, no small occurrence given that in this unsteady (perverse?) time of expansion and realignment, schools like BC must always look their Sunday best, with no overt warts or love handles.

Women’s lacrosse, BC’s working definition of pride and joy, capped the sports season with the national championship Memorial Day weekend in Cary, NC. It was the program’s second natty in four years, a three-hour infomercial for the entire institution and more proof that, yes, it can be done at BC with the right coach.

Acacia Walker-Weinstein – you’ll note that only the letter “W” separates her from “Einstein” – not only hung a banner, but helped BC earn a distinction few other athletic programs in the country could trumpet. How many other schools made national championship games (both televised by ESPN) in two different sports fewer than two months apart?

Think about that one: Men’s hockey, during an otherwise memorable season, fell short in the national championship game. But the Sons of Greg Brown did the school proud all season. Not a bad accomplishment to see “BC in the national finals” on the ESPN scroll in mid-April (hockey) and late May (lacrosse). It’s hard to buy that kind of advertising, particularly when and if realignment and expansion happen again.

Football won a bowl game over a ranked team at Fenway Park, returns a dynamo in Thomas Castellanos and then made the splash of a cannonball, hiring Bill O’Brien as head coach. Three other women’s sports showed promise as well: field hockey (11-7, made the ACC Tournament); softball (30-24, made the ACC Tournament) and volleyball, which continues to improve steadily under coach Jason Kennedy, finished 19-13 and made the ACC Tournament.

Otherwise, baseball gets a pass as new coach Todd Interdonato assimilates to the ACC and establishes his culture; the soccer programs (3-9-5 and 3-9-6) were lousy; and I remain concerned about men’s and women’s basketball. Put it this way: Sure feels as though better players are leaving than are entering.

Off the field, “Friends Of The Heights,” BC’s Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) collective, grew massively, keeping BC competitive in a cutthroat environment. Friends Of The Heights also homered into the upper deck, hiring veteran athletic administrator Jim Paquette as its new Chief Development Officer. Paquette will advise the Board on overall development strategies, using his 16 years as an administrator at BC that specialized in fundraising.

BC’s overall cachet also made a splash on social media when Forbes Magazine named it one of the country’s “New Ivies.”

Based on its researchForbes, the century-old national business magazine, reported that American companies are souring on hiring Ivy League graduates, instead preferring high achievers from 20 other prominent universities – “Private and Public New Ivies.”

BC joins private school “New Ivies” Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Rice, Notre Dame, Southern California and Vanderbilt. Ah, to be judged by the company one keeps.

One school year hasn’t produced this much for BC in years. And it’s significant. The idea now is to build, not regress.

Full disclosure: There are many things I still don’t like. I’m told Father Leahy neither attended the Frozen Four nor the lacrosse Final Four. It is disrespectful to the players, coaches and alumni to have a leader who acts as if so much about what makes BC great is beneath him. And we still seem to have these spasms of tone deafness, such as patrolling the parking lots like stormtroopers the day of the spring football game.

But 2023-24 was an encouraging year for BC in many ways. Yes, we always want more. But we were getting less for a long time. Not this year. A tip of the cap to athletic director Blake James, his staff, the coaches and the kids.

We pause now to enjoy summer and await Labor Day night in Tallahassee. Here’s to 2024-25, hollering “Mr. Brightside” again with the kids from the crowded bleachers.

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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Football

Boston College lineman Kyle Hergel selected 3rd overall in CFL draft

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The former Eagles guard was not selected in last week’s NFL draft, but quickly heard his name yesterday in the 2024 CFL draft, going 3rd overall to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Hergel, who spent one year at Boston College after transferring from Texas State. The guard was a huge success in helping transform the offensive line play in 2023, gaining the best PFF pass block grade at Boston College (86.6) with no sacks allowed and two quarterback hits on 402 dropbacks. This was good enough to earn All-ACC honorable mention and a trip to the East-West shrine game.

Recently signing with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent following the 2024 NFL draft, Hergel will seemingly look to catch on in the NFL this summer before trekking north of the boarder to play for the Roughriders.

John Pupel gets Patriots rookie camp invite

The former safety will travel to nearby Foxboro, Ma as an invite to Patriots rookie camp. After beginning his college career at Dartmouth, Pupel joined the Eagles in 2022. Starting 11 games last year with 81 tackles, a pack break up and a forced fumble.

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Football

Boston College’s Elijah Jones and Christian Mahogany drafted, others signed: Eagles Draft Weekend Recap

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It was a rather successful weekend for Boston College in the NFL Draft, as both Elijah Jones and Christian Mahogany were taken while guard Kyle Hergel inked a UDFA deal. In addition, longtime and former BC notables Jaelen Gill and Josh DeBerry have received UDFA deals.

Jones – The first Eagle off the board this year, Jones went 90th overall in the third round to the Arizona Cardinals. He missed the final three games of the season for undisclosed reasons but had a big year that shot up his draft stock with a conference-best five interceptions while also defending 13 passes. As a member of the 2018 recruiting class, the corner tallied 60 games at BC and racked up a First-team All-ACC selection this past year.

Jones’ 86.9 defensive PFF grade was the sixth-best in the draft class out of corners and he was the 11th cornerback off the board for the Eagles.

Mahogany – Mahogany sat out of the bowl game and had some noticeable buzz surrounding his name entering the draft, but the guard fell to the sixth round to the Detroit Lions. Mahogany missed most of the 2022 season after an ACL injury but came back fully healthy for 2023, posting the 16th-best total PFF grade out of guards in the draft class.

Mahogany fell further than many, with many projections putting him as a Day 2 pick, but given he’s 24 and his scouting reports present some clear downside, it’s not all that shocking that he fell all the way to the sixth round.

Hergel – Hergel didn’t exactly have any buzz surrounding his name but he managed to grab a UDFA deal with the Saints. He was a four-year starter between North Dakota and Texas State before he was a fifth-year transfer to BC, and he put up a solid enough season to get signed.

DeBerry – DeBerry signed on with the Cowboys, as he transferred to Texas A&M for his fifth year after four seasons with the Eagles. He was a big loss for BC’s secondary, as he started seven games this year for the Aggies and grabbed two interceptions.

Gill – Gill put up huge numbers for Fresno State this past year after three seasons with BC. After an initial start to his career at Ohio State, he transferred to the Eagles ahead of the 2020 season and through three years he put up 1,092 yards. He put up basically half of that in just one year with the Bulldogs, tallying 516 yards on 49 catches and six touchdowns.

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