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DiMauro: Are Jeff Hafley’s best days at BC behind him?

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In other outposts, places where college football resonates, the buzzards would be flying around the head coach who has lost 18 of his last 24 games. At Boston College, the place where sports are often treated as an abstraction, there appears no meaningful external pressure on Jeff Hafley, the coach in his fourth season.

Surely, there are spasms of bewilderment and besiegement on social media. Not much in the Boston media. Nobody really cares enough to ask fair and appropriate questions daily, questions that a 6-18 record in your last 24 games engender.

But the facts are the facts. BC is 6-18 in its last 24 football games. The Eagles aren’t just losing now, but they’re losing with an alarming lack of discipline. It invites the question: How did this get so bad?

It wasn’t long ago when BC football was among the most disciplined teams in the nation, evidenced by the COVID season of 2020. Other programs in the country lost enough players to imperil whether games were even played. BC’s daily steadfastness enabled it to lose but a handful of players and with no interruptions to its schedule. The Eagles posted an encouraging 6-5 record in Hafley’s first year.

In year two, the Eagles began 4-0. Two years ago last weekend, they defeated Missouri in overtime to start 4-0 (and 10-5 in Hafley’s first 15 games). Much of a sellout crowd at Alumni Stadium stormed the field. A subsequent injury to former quarterback Phil Jurkovec derailed the season, but not the vibes.

At the time, Hafley had led Boston College to qualifying for two straight bowl games (the Eagles ultimately declined to play in the COVID year.) In two seasons, his 12 victories as a head coach tied him with Michigan State’s Mel Tucker for the second most wins among all Power Five head coaches hired in 2020.

Hafley and his staff signed the top recruiting class in school history in his first season. The recruiting class ranking by ESPN was the best in school history since the rankings began in 2006. Hafley’s name had been on the watch list for several recent openings at Power Five programs. It inspired then-athletic director Pat Kraft to give Hafley a contract extension through 2026 reportedly worth around $3 million per season.

This is all mentioned for perspective. If we criticize Hafley for current events, it’s mostly because of the hope and wonder of the recent past. Again we ask: How did such promise turn so bad so fast?

Boston College has not played like a well coached team this season, nearly 50 penalties now in four games. But as lopsided as the final score was Saturday in Louisville, Hafley did something early in the game that was symptomatic of what bad coaching looks like.

Two weeks ago after the penalty-riddled win over Holy Cross, Hafley passionately told the assembled media that while penalties happen, players committing the egregious ones – the mindless personal fouls – would meet consequences. Hafley said “they won’t play.”

And yet Saturday, the BC defense was set to force a three-and-out on Louisville’s first possession. Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer completed a short pass on third and long to a receiver surrounded by three BC defenders. The play’s outcome was ghastly familiar: Khari Johnson, in position with two teammates and with no need to go near the face, grabbed the receiver’s facemask and got flagged for 15 yards. Louisville scored a few plays later.

After committing that penalty, Khari Johnson was on the field for the next play.

That’s bad coaching.

If you are going to tell the media – and by extension the fans – that bad penalties have consequences, you must follow through. Because what kind of message does that send when there are no consequences at all? What motivation do the players really have to change when the tough talk is really just empty calories?

I don’t pretend to know one-twentieth of the football Hafley knows. But that one sequence Saturday told me everything. And it’s not encouraging. Put it this way: Loyalists of BC football are used to losing. But they’re not used to watching a product that is undisciplined and rudderless.

But then, are the people to whom Hafley answers demanding answers? I have no way of knowing that. What I do know is that as previously stated: In other places, external pressure has a way of making the comfortable appropriately uncomfortable. Jeff Hafley should be appropriately uncomfortable right now.

Several BC alumni chapters (Kentucky, Cincinnati, Indianapolis) attended Saturday’s game. An excellent turnout. Most left the game by halftime because there was nothing left to watch. And the far more concerning part: Many weren’t even mad. They were numb. And on the road to apathy.

Full disclosure here: I do not enjoy writing such things. Hafley seems like a good man. His first two years here had many of us worried he’d leave for greener pastures. But this? This is simply not acceptable one minute longer.

This is Jeff Hafley’s responsibility to fix. And it begins with holding his players accountable with more than words. It must start Saturday with a very winnable game against Virginia.

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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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