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Jeff Hafley despite Week 1 loss: ‘This is a different team than last year’

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Jeff Hafley had his presser Monday following Saturday’s disappointing loss to Northern Illinois that opened the 2023 season.

While he wasn’t able to give any intel on who Boston College plans to quarterback the offense moving forward given that both Emmett Morehead and Thomas Castellanos saw a number of reps against NIU, Hafley did say he has an idea of who’s starting — adding that he’ll reveal it at a later date. Castellanos went 13-of-28 for138 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and an interception through the air on top of 74 yards on the ground through nine rushes. In Morehead’s three drives, he went 4-for-10 with 30 yards passing.

Does Hafley regret playing both quarterbacks in the loss?

“No. I don’t regret it at all,” he said. “That’s kind of the way we went into the game. That’s how we evaluated it. we thought they both deserved to play and wanted to see how they’d both play. So, no, we don’t regret that at all.”

BC also dropped last year’s season opener to Rutgers. Following that, they lost in embarrassing fashion to both Virginia Tech and Florida State — though a light 38-17 win over FCS opponent in Maine did come between those two contests. It later spiraled into a 3-9 season. With a strong FCS team in Holy Cross coming up Saturday before fourth-ranked Florida State comes to town, how do the Eagles make sure a season-opening loss doesn’t spiral into an ugly year?

“I think it’s a little different this time,” Hafley said. “You turn on the tape and you see that there were so many plays that we left out there. We catch the ball here, we sack the QB here where we have a free run to him. We catch an interception and maybe we’re winning it at the end of regulation. You show them like 10 or 12 of those, our guys are capable of making those plays. They are. They’ve done it. Then, you show them the plays they did make with a little more consistency.

“I still think it’s a confident group,” Hafley continued. “I think they saw we’re down 14 points with five-and-a-half minutes left in the game and they rallied back when at one point it didn’t look like they were going to. I think there’s confidence there and this is a different team than last year. I know that’s all coach talk right now. I get it. But, I believe that the team believes that and the staff believes that as well.”

Of course, no one is oblivious to the sloppiness put on display by BC. 10 penalties for 93 yards on top of countless dropped passes and a slew of missed opportunities.

“You correct the false starts,” Hafley said. “That’s what’s disappointing. We preach it all the time. We talk about it in practice all the time. We stress it, constantly. You can’t have those false starts, two of them that really cost us. The personal fouls — they called Hergel on one. You watch the tape, you can give me your opinion on whether that was a foul or not. The roughing (the passer) was a bad one. Does Donovan (Ezeiruaku) shove the guy at the end? You see it on tape. You can’t do that. You’ve got to control yourself. The PI on fourth down, the guy’s going up to make a play on the ball. But, on defense, here’s how I see it. On third and fourth down, you can’t foul. You’ve got to beat that into their head. You cannot foul on third and fourth down. You’re going to get some PI’s. It happens, right?

“On offense, you can’t go backward on any down You’ve got to keep moving forward,” he continued. “We got called on two holds. We’ve got to keep coaching it better. Keep teaching technique better, but ultimately, those are self-inflicted and between that coach and that player, they’ve got to fix that.”

Despite that, the offensive line — arguably the biggest topic heading into the season after last year’s catastrophe of a line — was something to watch for, especially with coach Matt Applebaum returning following the relieving of Dave DeGuglielmo. And, the improvements showed: BC averaged 5.2 yards per carry compared to last year’s FBS-worst 2.0 YPC, with the line looking much greater overall whether you’re looking at raw tape or PFF grades. Hafley pointed out the time the defense was on the field as a key factor in the loss.

“We ran the ball for five yards on average, which is way up from last year. The protection I thought was really good,” he said. “The quarterbacks had time to throw it, we just didn’t have the ball enough on offense. They had the ball for 37 minutes. That’s a long time for one side to have the ball. And, that’s not just the offense’s fault. We’ve got to get off on third down as well, right? We need our third down defense to get off the field, then we need to sustain drives. It was better when you watch the execution, now we just can’t go backward.”

Injury updates

Hafley: “We came out pretty healthy. There were some guys on the injury report that were a little tight, a little sore. But, as of right now, it looks like everybody will be ready to roll. That was a physical game up front. O-line was good, D-line was good (health wise), so yeah, looks like we’re healthy right now.”

~ That hints that Nigel Tate, who suffered a leg injury mid-game against NIU, should be fine.

~ No update on Bryce Steele, who has been out since before Week 1 with a “personal health issue.”

~ Connor Lytton was out for week 1, which prompted backup kicker Liam Connor to kick instead. He made his first career field goal, a 39-yard kick in overtime, along with all three extra points. “Right now, if he’s healthy and continues to do what he does, I’m going to play him. I trust him and I’m confident in him. He’s got a great look in his eye right now,” Hafley said — not giving any intel on Lytton as well.

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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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