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Tom Devitt looking to make an impact

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College athletics have been entrenched in a transformation in recent years. With the latest iteration of conference realignment and the newly minted Name Image Likeness (NIL) funds, money has been flying and the NCAA of old is a distant memory.

Last summer, incoming athletic director Blake James commented on Boston College’s stance on NIL:

I think each school has to take their own approach,” James said. “My belief is that we as an institution shouldn’t be involved if there’s opportunities for young people to capitalize on their name image and likeness.”

This seemingly sent a wave of distress to the BC fanbase as many thought that the school would surely fall behind and not properly utilize the NIL avenue. Universities are unable to directly pay their student-athletes. But this is where the collectives such as Friends of the Heights come into play. Over time, James has privately been very supportive of individual student freedoms as well as backing the NIL initiative.

Friends of the Heights was founded in direct response to collectives popping up at peer universities. The BC collective has taken the next step in hiring the former University of Hartford men’s basketball coach (and Boston College alum) Tom Devitt to lead the campaign.

Leaving the coaching ranks to get involved on the Heights was an easy choice for Devitt, who expressed deep affinity for the school. Devitt’s rise through the college coaching ranks began on the staff for the BC basketball team that included a trip to the Elite Eight in 1994, his first year on the staff. His passion and desire to see the Eagles soar back to these levels of excellence are evident.

“The court of public opinion believes the NIL waters are a bit polluted, I wanted to do this at a place where that would not be possible,” Devitt said. “Individual states, whose laws govern NIL don’t quite know what to do with it. NCAA guidelines are considered interim. There are going to be changes. There is a level of fluidity.

“Simply put, BC will always do things the right way. Impacting the community to its maximum capacity and really empowering student athletes to benefit from what the Supreme Court has said college sports has been lacking. Whatever the NCAA and state laws state we can do, we’re going to do.”

For many years, a Boston College degree was a strong selling point to student athletes. But with the new terms of compensation, it’s been feared that education alone would no longer be a point of interest for prospective recruits.

“We’re initially behind other institutions, but we’re making great progress with the initiative every day,” Devitt said. “I don’t think we mind being currently behind these institutions because ultimately, we want the student athletes who value the BC degree to remain here. And if he or she values the BC degree, they may not be concerned with other things.”

What does an NIL collective do?

The NIL idea on the surface is a simple construct: Collegiate athletes are permitted to be compensated in various ways, among them jersey sales, advertising, or video game character usage.

Many blue chip schools have been linked to handing large six-figure sums to players using the newly minted system as de facto free agency to retain talent and strengthen rosters.

“BC is committed to two things; empowering the student-athlete and doing it the right way,” Devitt said. “A large part of both consists of a 501c3 element of the organization. What that means is by law, we must partner with other not for profit organizations — like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs and organizations that assist the homeless and poor.

“We are able to give student athletes the ability to earn NIL benefits through charitable endeavors. I think it’s an unbelievable concept that the community is being impacted in such a positive way.”

Devitt wants to make it clear that this initiative is not a “pay for play” model. The players are given the opportunity to earn their NIL benefits, by which they are also able to make positive impacts in the greater Boston communities.

The Boston College mantra has long been “men and women for others.” This Initiative allows the student-athletes to try immersing themselves in the community. “BC athletes are not being forced to work within the communities for compensation, in fact they are really excited to do it.” Devitt said.

Linking Boston College more directly with the surrounding communities is a win for everyone. The athletes get more exposure, the communities are being helped and the bond is being created among the parties. Historically, BC has struggled to create strong relationships with the surrounding areas. This should help fortify that.

The collective’s vision of positively impacting communities does not stop at non profits. Picture it as a two pronged model as Friends of the Heights has two arms. The for profit side allows athletes to partner with companies to be spokespersons for restaurants and other such businesses. For profit is linked more with advertising and being a representative of that company.

“A lot of the small town businesses want to support their hometown heroes,” Devitt said. They really want to support these student athletes, whether through a social media campaign or appearance.”

This for profit model allows student athletes to receive benefits as well. Moreover, many such businesses have been smaller “mom and pop” shops in the respective athletes’ hometowns. Once again, these opportunities give the student athletes exposure and as well NIL benefits, while small businesses get exposure within their communities. Win-win for both sides.

“Our student-athletes are very good people of high character. Our coaches wouldn’t have that any other way. And the reality is they’re impacting the community and enjoying it along the way,” Devitt said.

With all that is happening in the college athletics landscape, Boston College and Friends of the Heights seek to remain competitive and utilize the system for the student athletes’ benefits.

“In college athletics, great programs spread by word of mouth,” Devitt said. “We are attempting to shout this initiative from the rooftops. We look forward to planning many events that will bring awareness to this terrific initiative so folks can contribute. We want to constantly have engagements in the community and have a presence at athletic events, alumni events and even small social gatherings.”

As the old adage goes, it takes a village. With the passionate fan base the Eagles have, fans now have the chance to directly make an impact in the lives of the kids. Not only can they receive the opportunity to acquire a Boston College degree, but they can earn a living making their college experience much more comfortable for themselves and their families. It will take all of us.

Please consider becoming a member of Friends of the Heights below:

https://friendsoftheheights.com

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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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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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