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‘Friends of the Heights’ is BC’s most important athletic initiative

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There was considerable consternation from loyalists of Boston College recently, upon reading that some football recruits flipped their commitment from BC to land elsewhere. A popular hot take: The kids found a better program.

Au contraire.

The kids, according to sources who follow recruiting, likely found schools offering better NIL deals.

This is the new reality of college sports: Who has enough money in their Name/Image/Likeness coffers to keep their programs competitive and attractive?

Consider, for instance, the contrast between BC’s new $3 billion capital campaign – with a $400 million goal for athletics – and the recent words of Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy:

“Don’t build it, put the money in the bank,” Gundy said at a recent media session. “Put the money in the bank and spend it on NIL. That’s just the future. I’m not saying I agree with it. I only know the signs of the times.

“Players used to want to go somewhere for shiny new facilities and new uniforms and things like that. They still want to go somewhere where they win, but they also want the other stuff. I’m going to hypothetically build a situation: If you brought in 50 of our players and said ‘We’ll NIL you $50 to $60,000 a year in cash or we can build you a new weight room and meeting room, which one do you want?’ They’re gonna take (the money) right? That’s what kids do nowadays.”

This is not to suggest that BC’s goals and ideals align with Oklahoma State’s. But Gundy’s message, while perhaps odious to many of us who still value the concept of higher education, is a cautionary tale to anybody unwilling to adapt and adjust to the new reality. Name/Image/Likeness is the newest illustration of athletic Darwinism.

At BC, the NIL initiative is called “Friends of the Heights,” created not long ago by four forward thinkers who may turn out to be the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to BC athletics: alums Joe Popolo, Scott Mutryn, Brian Tusa and Sam Raia. BC grad and former University of Hartford basketball coach Tom Devitt was recently hired as the initiative’s full-time general manager, indicating a level of seriousness that ought to have BC fans thankful and encouraged.

“The importance of this is multi-faceted,” Devitt said. “No. 1, it sheds light on the BC value system. And equally as important, it allows us to compete at the highest level possible. That competition will continue to advance BC as an institution on national and international stages.”

Devitt, like many of us, has discovered some distaste for the NIL concept among BC alums. Some have been reluctant to contribute for ideological reasons. And while it is noble to maintain a value system, there is a practical side that is clearer than a bottle of Poland Spring. If you don’t contribute to future successes don’t complain about current failures.

Devitt offers a metaphor:

“Seventy percent of Americans today have never rolled down a car window,” Devitt said. “In terms of the operation of the vehicle, things are simply done differently. If you get into a car and are seeking fresh air and you’re looking for a handle to roll down a window, you’re going to start sweating.

“Boston College has done an unbelievable job to make sure this initiative aligns with our values. Because so much of this is service oriented, it lines up perfectly. But remember, if you are seeking fresh air but doing it the way you did 30 years ago, you are going to sweat.”

Then Devitt paused and asked, “If student-athletes of other eras had these opportunities, would they have turned them down?”

It is quite possible that a simple lack of understanding about how NIL works lies at the roots of the ideological distaste. BC fans are not alone.

“We’ve heard it all, right? Our fan base is no different than any other fan base. Our coaches are no different than any other coaches in college sports,” Oklahoma State athletic director Chad Weiberg said during a media opportunity. “This is not the way college athletics has worked all these years and decades. There are a fair amount of people that don’t like it.

“It is now part of college athletics. It is not going away. And for us to remain competitive, it’s one of the areas that we are going to have to compete in. We have to continue to do a good job in the area of educating and telling our fans how they can get involved. There are a lot of ways that they can get involved and I think that is part of the confusion.”

This is why anybody with an affinity for BC sports should visit the Friends of the Heights website (friendsoftheheights.com) to learn more. Memberships begin as low as $25 per month, but they will accept any dollar amount as a one-time donation. Here’s Devitt:

“There are tax deductible contributions, commercial contributions (asking for teams or players to sponsor your company), many ways to give, and many levels of membership,” Devitt said. “We are grateful to accept all amounts of funding. This is not pay for play. Non-profit rules are very strict. For example, when a student-athlete partners with a charity, they have to do the work first and then earn compensation after that.”

Devitt said NIL money has even helped more than one BC student-athlete to pay tuition. Others are using it to gap tuition debt.

“This is not Livvy Dunne hosting the ESPYs. These are real life scenarios,” Devitt said. “There’s a misnomer about how all Div. 1 student-athletes are on a full ride. Far from the truth. NIL can be used as a vehicle to gap tuition costs, too.”

BC sports are painting a rosier picture. Football has won two straight. Hockey is in the top five in the country. There is optimism around basketball. Student sections are howling. And yet with successful teams and successful players come the poachers.

“Common sense says that a student-athlete can still love it at BC, not want to leave – and still be coerced by the various forces in his or her life,” Devitt said. “We’re not necessarily looking to outbid other schools. This is for the student-athlete who values the BC degree and who can have a great experience here.”

This much we know: There are decades worth of loyal BC grads who have done well for themselves. There’s money out there. BC also has a number of graduates in the media who can spread the word about the importance of Friends of the Heights, including (but certainly not limited to) Joe Tessitore, Jon Sciambi, Molly McGrath, Bob Wischusen, Mike Lupica and Bob Ryan.

Our individual opinions about the bonafides of NIL are noted, but alas irrelevant. This is about keeping BC competitive. I’m in. How about you?

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Football

Boston College Football Recruiting Board: Class of 2026

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Welcome to our Class of 2026 recruiting board for Boston College football.

Every player is a 3-star unless stated otherwise.

June 24 (2024): QB Corin Berry
The Eagles picked up their quarterback for the Class of ’26, as BC picks up a massive recruit out of California — also the Eagles’ second quarterback commit in the past week. Berry stands at an athletic 6-foot-3 frame with a powerful arm and he chose the Eagles over an offer from Arkansas. Berry threw for over 2,000 yards as a sophomore starter this season for Charter Oak High in California.

March 3 (2024): OL Marcelino Antunes Jr.
Antunes Jr. out of Catholic Memorial is the first commit in the Class of ’26, as the 6-foot-7, 285-pound offensive lineman ranked as a top-50 ’26 lineman in the country committed to the Eagles before his sophomore year concluded. He’s ranked as the No. 2 ’26 player in Mass.

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Football

Boston College Football Recruiting Board: Class of 2025

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Welcome to our Class of 2025 recruiting board for Boston College. Every player is a 3-star unless stated otherwise.

The Eagles currently rank as the 38th best recruiting class in the country.

June 24: WR Dawson Pough
The Eagles land their third wide receiver of the class, as Pough plays both sides of the ball but is recruited as a wideout. The 6-foot-1 wideout had offers from several Power-4s and a number of G5s. He’s a top-30 rated recruit in teh state of Virginia out of Leesburg.

June 23: CB Charleston Coldon
The 6-foot-1 defensive back out of Belleville, Illinois had several other Power-4 offers and visited just two days ago. His brother, CJ Coldon, played at Wyoming as well as Oklahoma as this is the seventh defensive back in this class.

June 19: CB Ashton Cunningham
A smaller-sized — 5-foot-11, 155-pounder, Cunningham is a top-100 corner out of Oklahoma. He’s teammates with Shaker Reisig, who flipped from Utah to BC the day prior.

June 18: QB Shaker Reisig
Some big news came out of Oklahoma this week as Reisig, a top-50 QB in the country flipped his commitment from Utah to the Eagles. Reisig is a 6-foot, 200-pound passer who is regarded as an accurate passer who threw for 2,366 yards along with a completion percentage above 75% in his junior season — and is overall a good get for the Eagles.

June 16: LB Zacari Thomas
Thomas is a 6-foot-2 linebacker from Gray, Georgia. He had a couple of Power-4 offers but after visiting BC the week prior Thomas announced his commitment.

June 16: CB Njita Sinkala
The 5-foot-11 corner in Sinkala is a top-15 player from Connecticut and held offers from schools mainly on the East Coast, but committed to BC just two days after his visit.

June 15: EDGE Israel Oladipupo
Oladipupo is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound edge rusher from Indiana that had interest largely from the MAC as well as a few other Power-4 schools — totaling 16 offers. It’s BC’s first edge rusher in the 2025 high school class, and he ranks in the top-75 in the country at his position.

June 13: OL Robert Smith
A 6-foot-4, 290-pound inside offensive lineman out of Cleveland, Smith was one of several to commit after their June 7 visit to the Eagles. Cincinnati was his only other Power-4 offer.

June 11: S Rae Sykes Jr.
A 6-foot-2 safety out of Rome, Georgia, Sykes visited BC four days prior to his commitment. He had Power-4 interest as well as in-state interest at Georgia State, but ended up choosing the Eagles.

June 11: S Omarion Davis
One of two safeties to commit on June 11th, Davis is a top-25 recruit in the state of South Carolina and just outside of a top-100 country-wide safety ranking. Georgia Tech was his only other Power-4 offer.

June 9: WR Semaj Fleming
Fleming is a speedy 5-foot-10 receiver that has had a good ordeal of success in track and field. Out of Orlando, Florida, Fleming is BC’s second recruit out of Florida and held several SEC offers.

June 3: S Marcelous Townsend
A 5-foot-11 athlete out of Georgia, BC was Townsend’s only Power-4 offer despite going on a visit to Michigan as the Eagles have picked up two players from Roswell on the same day.

June 3: ATH Bryce Lewis
A 6-foot-6 athlete out of Roswell, Georgia, the two-way player in Lewis is a top-100 player in the state of Georgia and is the son of Boston College defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. Lewis had several Power-4 offers though committed four days after his visit to Boston College.

May 3: RB Mekhi Dodd
The Eagles retain a tailback from the state of Mass., Dodd is another top-5 player from Massachussetts and a top-100 runningback in the country. The 6-foot tailback out of Catholic Memorial missed part of the 2023 season but is ranked well despite only having one other offer from UMass.

April 15: DL Micah Amedee
Amedee attends Xaverian Brothers and is a top-5 player from the state of MA, though BC being his only Power-4 offer. He committed over a month before his visit as the 6-foot-3, 275-pounder is ranked as a top-100 defensive lineman in the country.

April 15: ATH TJ Green
The 5-foot-11 receiver out of Ohio had over 1,000 yards last season in his junior campaign as well as some solid numbers defensively. He’s a speedy asset that has potential to play on either side of the ball.

March 12: WR Nedrick Boldin
The 5-foot-11 receiver is one of the Eagles’ earlier commitments in the class and had plenty of Power-4 interest out of Palm Beach, FL. He is a quick runner that also cometes in track & field.

March 11: ATH Griffin Collins

A top-5 player out of MA, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete commits out of Worcester Academy as he’s the second player in the class to commit. Collins plays both tight end and linebacker.

December 2 (2023): RB Nolan James

James had plenty of Power-4 interest but the DePaul Catholic (NJ) tailback chose to be the Eagles’ first member of the Class of ’25. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound tailback ran for over 1400 yards in his junior season.

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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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