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DiMauro: Jeff Hafley deserves some praise

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Among the first lessons in Columnist School goes like this: If you criticize the bad, you should praise the good, lest you get exposed as a fraud with an agenda.

There has been considerable bad through the first five weeks of Boston College’s football season, enough to warrant appropriate criticism of coach Jeff Hafley. Example: I wondered last week if his best days at BC were behind him, following the stench of a 28-point loss at Louisville.

But the Eagles have also shown spasms of promise, evidenced by Saturday’s rousing second-half rally that gave BC a 27-24 win over Virginia. And so if we are going to question Hafley’s methods in times of peril, we should praise him for BC’s perpetual resilience this season.

What happened Saturday before 41,868 at Alumni Stadium is further evidence that Hafley has not, as some have suggested, “lost the locker room.” On the contrary. There is no greater attribute for a team than the ability to withstand and then conquer dire circumstances.

A 21-7 deficit at halftime at home to a winless team Saturday qualified as dire.

“We have a resilient team. We really do,” Hafley said after the game. “Do we need to play better in some areas? Sure. Do I need to coach better in some areas? Sure. We have a resilient group that could have laid it down and they didn’t. Multiple times in the game. I thought they showed that and I’m proud of them and I love them.”

Consider the mood at halftime. A confounding season had found another indignity, the completion of a Hail Mary that allowed Virginia another two-touchdown lead. Who among us didn’t think, “here we go again?” Who among us didn’t consult the mental rolodex, contemplating Hafley’s successors? Who among us wasn’t concerned the players might succumb to the frustration? “

I don’t think we were deflated. I thought we had momentum going until the Hail Mary. I really did,” Hafley said. “I felt it on the sideline and maybe I’m crazy, but I felt it. And then yeah, I guess the Hail Mary did deflate us. Speeches only go so far. So what you’re saying to get them all fired up to run out of the tunnel – that doesn’t last. It’s who they are and how resilient they are and how much they trust and believe in their team.”

The Eagles have shown as much all season. And that’s a credit to Hafley and his coaches, for not merely being able to preach resiliency, but to get the players to believe it. It’s certainly fair to wonder why they’ve faced two-touchdown deficits to Northern Illinois, Florida State and Virginia. It’s certainly fair to wonder why they came frighteningly close to losing to Holy Cross. But it’s also true that BC has rallied each time, even when the situations were ominous.

The significance of resilience isn’t to be understated, even though it is stated quite often. Athletes at all levels spew cliches about it all the time. But it’s another thing entirely to actually do it. And the Eagles are doing it.

“We had a little talk at halftime, just emphasizing how guys have to do their job,” defensive end Donovan Ezeiraku said after the game. “Guys don’t have to quit. Adversity comes our way. We’re just not going to quit. We’re just going keep on going, keep fighting. We knew that.

“We looked ourselves in the mirror (after the Louisville loss), especially on Monday, the off day. We’ve got to change. The defense took ownership of that loss last week, letting up all those points. We had a big emphasis on doing your job and just being playmakers having some fun. Guys not playing to mess up, (but to) just go make a play.”

Yet even as the Eagles played their best half of the season, they met with more distress, this the scariest kind: Teammate Ryan O’Keefe motionless on the turf. They eventually rallied around O’Keefe as he was wheeled off the field, unaware of the injury’s severity. And yet they managed the adversity, as they have all season, figuring out a way to win the game using all three phases.

The offense drove, the defense held and special teams scored, Liam Connor’s clutch 42-yard field goal.

“Our guys rebounded,” Hafley said, alluding to seeing O’Keefe’s injury. “It was pretty emotional for a lot of guys. It was emotional for me to be honest with you. I’ve never been in a situation on the field like that. And you kind of had to reset yourself because your mind starts going in different ways.”

Read those words again: You kind of had to reset yourself because your mind starts going in different ways. This has been the story of BC’s football season.

They have found ways to reset, the Eagles have, in spite of making themselves and many of us contemplate whether we need to gulp Mylanta or Maker’s at various times. But if we’re going to criticize Hafley for all the predicaments and penalties, then we really ought to praise him for keeping his team together.

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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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