SHREVEPORT, La. — It began, as is the case with most successful football teams, up front with the offensive line.
When Boston College first-year head coach Steve Addazio implemented an offensive scheme predicated on a power running game, BC’s five-man wrecking crew took it upon itself to lead “The Way.’’
“And ‘The Way’ encompassed everything,’’ said BC offensive line coach Justin Frye. “The way they trained, the way they sat in meetings, the way they studied football off the field, the way they did everything.’’
It wasn’t long after the Eagles’ first spring practice that the entire team embraced the offensive line’s exacting standards.
“We took pride right from the beginning knowing that what we were doing the last few years wasn’t right, so things had to change, especially on the offensive line,’’ said Ian White, a 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound right tackle from Conway, N.H. “We took it as a challenge to us to really buy in, but to also get everyone else to buy in. So we tried to lead the team in that way.’’
There wasn’t any debate from the rest of the team. The Eagles would not have earned their first bowl berth in three years were it not for the offensive line.
“When we first got here, these guys were not a power-run football team,’’ said Frye, who came from Temple, where he served as Addazio’s offensive line coach. “So the biggest deal was not necessarily breaking bad habits, but establishing habits that we were looking for. That was the biggest thing, especially with an older group of guys with some juniors and seniors up front.’’
In addition to reclaiming their reputation as O-Line U, BC’s offensive line — anchored by senior tackles Matt Patchan, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference second-team selection, and White — paved the way for Andre Williams to rush for 2,102 yards and become a Heisman Trophy finalist and winner of the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back.
“Those guys were happy for [Williams], because, ultimately, in their minds he’s an extension of our room,’’ Frye said. “With those guys and the tight ends, we all spend a lot of time together installing the run game. Andre was always in there with them. He knew if the five, six, seven guys up front blocked their man, he would have to make the 11th guy miss.’’
Of course, it helped to have a pair of bookend tackles in White and Patchan leading the way.
“Ian had never played tackle, really,’’ Frye said of White, who was a guard before this season. “But if you want to talk about a ball guy, a real hard hat, a real tough BC guy, it’s Ian White. Football is really important to him.’’
So much so, he embraced a radical position switch to tackle.
“He said, ‘Coach, whatever we can do to make this team successful, I’ll do it,’ and so I said, ‘OK, play tackle,’ ” Frye recalled. “He kind of looked at me and said, ‘All right, let’s go,’ and we started working on some sets.
“With him being elected captain, when a team elects someone captain you know what type of guy he is.’’
Patchan brought a championship pedigree with him when he transferred from Florida after playing in 27 games, including eight starts.
“We had a history with Matt, which was great,’’ Frye said. “But with him coming in and buying in and understanding the system of offense, and what was expected, it was easy because we’d dealt with him before. Coach [Addazio] had recruited him when he was at Florida and we had worked with him down there, so his whole mind-set was to come up and add to the mix and be a leader by example with his play.’’
The physical standard they set this season not only helped rebrand BC as a rough and tough program that relishes smash-mouth football, but guided the Eagles to a bowl game opposite Arizona in the Advocare V100 Bowl at Independence Stadium.
“There was a lot of trust and they just said, ‘You know what? You’re right, so let’s go,’ and like I said, we’re still getting better through bowl practice,’’ Frye said. “I got a lot of those guys who we’re going to have back next year — [center] Andy Gallik, [guards] Bob Vardaro, and Harris [Williams], and some of the young guys who played a lot of ball for us at the end — and they were all getting better in bowl practice.’’
While AdvoCare V100 bowl officials were thrilled to pair the nation’s top two running backs in their game, BC’s offensive line was more concerned with proving who had the better team.
“You got to win and that’s why you play football,’’ White said. “With team success comes individual success, so if we win the game I’m sure Andre will have had a big game.’’