They came to Chestnut Hill from such divergent places as Sierra Madre, Calif., and Hamburg, Germany, and many compass points in between.
For the last four seasons, they have forged a bond as Boston College football players whose tumultuous journey took them to a bowl game in San Francisco as freshmen and on an unexpected downward turn as sophomores and juniors, a combined 6-18 stretch in which BC’s team became “fragmented’’ following a 2-10 campaign in 2012 that ultimately cost former head coach Frank Spaziani his job.
Through it all, BC’s departing seniors, who will make their last Alumni Stadium appearance Saturday afternoon against ACC Atlantic Division foe North Carolina State, have persevered. The seniors followed the lead of first-year coach Steve Addazio and strained against the gravitational pull of mediocrity. They have turned around the Eagles’ program and brought it to the threshold of bowl eligibility by reestablishing BC’s brand as being tough of mind, body and spirit.
“It was something that was tough to swing, too,’’ acknowledged senior linebacker Steele Divitto, who was ACC Co-Linebacker of the Week after ringing up a season-high 18 tackles in last Saturday’s 48-34 victory at New Mexico State. “You got to think about the fact we haven’t had a ton of senior leadership in the past. We had a lot of guys leave, too, so this program was completely fragmented about 10 months ago or so.
“It’s taken a lot of selflessness, it’s taken a lot of hard work and it’s just taken everybody to buy in,’’ Divitto added. “It’s an unbelievable chance we’ve got coming up, to get a sixth win at home.
“Coach Addazio was even talking about it today. How great it would be to be able to come back in a few years and see a plaque up there in the Yawkey Center from our bowl game, knowing that we were the ones to turn the program around.’’
If this group of 18 seniors were to get the Eagles back to respectability and back to a bowl game for the first time since 2010, it would be largely attributed to the fact at almost every important position, there was a senior to lead the way.
“I think that the most important thing about this senior class is that they have totally bought in to everything that we wanted to do,’’ Addazio said. “They have embraced it, they have loved it and even in the last two weeks they have brought their mental part of their game even harder. These guys have gone the extra mile in terms of preparation.’’
The class boasts unflappable quarterback Chase Rettig of Sierra Madre, Calif., who has made 41 consecutive starts. He’s weathered the upheaval of the coaching staff, including five offensive coordinators in his four seasons.
Offensive tackles Ian White and Matt Patchan, a pair of battle-tested bookends, were thrown together for the first time this season. White, a native of Conway, N.H., who was voted a team co-captain, and Patchan, a former blue-chip prospect from Tampa who transferred from the University of Florida to complete his final year of eligibility playing for Addazio, his former position coach with the Gators, have paved the way for BC’s ground-and-pound game.
The Eagles have had a reliable and accurate kicker in Nate Freese, who added kickoffs and punting duties to his place-kicking. He has converted 61 of 72 field goals, including a season-long 51-yarder last week in Las Cruces, and ranks as BC’s all-time leader in field goals.
Defensively, Kasim Edebali came from Hamburg, Germany, with a rudimentary understanding of the English language but a firm grasp of the game. He prepped at Kimball Union in New Hampshire, earned a football scholarship to BC, and rose to become one of the more outspoken team leaders and was voted cocaptain as a senior. Edebali (8.5 sacks), along with fellow defensive end Kaleb Ramsey and outside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (2 sacks each), has helped establish a hard edge on the front seven of Don Brown’s attacking defensive scheme. The three players combining for half of BC’s 25 sacks this season.
Offensively, the senior class also has two members who will leave as two of the best players at their position in school history: running back Andre Williams and wideout Alex Amidon.
Williams, the nation’s leading rusher (163.4 yards per game) and Doak Walker Award semifinalist, owns two of the school’s top three rushing performances, including a 295-yard effort last week that broke the single-game rushing record (264 yards) set by Montel Harris in 2009 against N.C. State. The bruising 6-foot, 227-pounder from Schnecksville, Pa., is one of five players in school history to rush for more than 3,000 career yards and is 256 yards from breaking Mike Cloud’s single-season rushing 1998 record (1,726 yards).
Amidon, a 6-foot, 182-pounder from Greenfield, Mass., established single-season school records last season for receptions (78) and yards (1,210) to earn All-ACC first-team accolades. This season, Amidon, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, has 57 receptions for 726 yards and four touchdowns, including a 30-yard TD grab at New Mexico State that helped him replace Rich Gunnell (2,459 yards, 2006-09) as BC’s all-time leader in career receiving yards. Amidon has 2,494.
When they are all summoned to midfield to be introduced to the Alumni Stadium crowd for one last hurrah, each member of BC’s senior class will hold a cherished mental snapshot of his favorite moment of the season.
“I think it was the block Ian made in the Army game on one of my touchdowns,’’ Williams said, referring to a rare double-pancake White executed on a 34-yard scoring run he had in the first quarter of BC’s 48-27 romp. “I hit the hole and when I turned the corner I saw he had knocked down two players at once.’’
For White, it was “losing my mind’’ on BC’s sideline when he saw Pierre-Louis score on a 33-yard interception return to break a 20-20 tie in the fourth quarter of a 34-27 home victory over Virginia Tech.
As for Rettig? “It was that feeling when we beat Virginia Tech at home,’’ he said. “I came around off my [play-action] fake and I just saw Andre running for a [62-yard] touchdown and saw all the offensive line with their hands up.’’
Said Divitto: “Something that was really special was that after a [win], we’d get up and sing the fight song in the locker room . . . There’s nothing better than winning and singing the fight song in the locker room. It’s an awesome tradition.’’
BC’s senior class would love nothing more than to have the opportunity to lead the team in one last rendition of “For Boston,’’ but they also know they have an all-important sixth game to win before they can declare their mission accomplished.
“It won’t mean much unless we get to a bowl game,’’ White said. “I mean, five wins is better than two wins last year and four the year before, but we need that bowl game and that’ll be the real thing to be proud of. If we get that, I’ll be pretty proud of what this senior class has done to bring this organization back.’’