Picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Boston College football team is set to prove the prognosticators wrong.
Fresh off a 7-6 season that culminated in their first bowl appearance since 2010, the Eagles open camp Monday in the hopes of resolving a few questions before the Aug. 30 opener vs. UMass at Gillette Stadium.
Among them: Who will emerge as impact players?
BC has lost 15 starters (eight on offense) from last year’s squad, including the school’s all-time rushing leader in running back Andre Williams; a four-year starter in quarterback Chase Rettig; its all-time leading receiver in Alex Amidon; and its all-time scoring leader in kicker/punter Nate Freese.
“Well, there’s a challenge there,’’ said BC’s second-year coach Steve Addazio, during the ACC’s recent Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. “We lost some impact players, but we’ve also gained some players.’’
BC’s recruits include Jon Hilliman, a 6-foot, 215-pound running back from Plainfield, N.J., who rescinded a verbal commitment to Rutgers to sign with the Eagles; Harold Landry, a 6-3, 257-pound defensive end from Fayetteville, N.C.; and Connor Strachan, a 6-2, 231-pound linebacker from Wellesley who starred at St. Sebastian’s.
“There’s no question we lost productivity,’’ Addazio said. “But I’m excited about the youth of our team. Now, the youth usually means that you’re going to have some bumps in the road, but I like the future and I like where we’re headed and I like the fact we’ve invested in these young players. That investment will come back to us.’’
Running backs Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse are examples of that measured approach. Last year, as true freshmen, they saw limited but productive action behind Williams. Working behind a veteran offensive line, the sophomore duo will be counted on to do the bulk of the work in a backfield that senior center Andy Gallik described as “one of the most explosive I’ve seen since I’ve been here.’’
The arrival in the spring of quarterback Tyler Murphy only added to BC’s offensive explosiveness.
A graduate-transfer from Florida with starting experience in the Southeastern Conference, Murphy resolved one lingering question, who would succeed Rettig, when the 6-2, 213-pounder from Wethersfield, Conn., was named the starting QB.
“I recruited Tyler to Florida,’’ said Addazio, who was an offensive assistant and later offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida. “He’s from Connecticut, where I’m from, so I had a great familiarity with him, and his home is an hour and 20 minutes from Boston College. It was a great fit.’’
Murphy will help provide a bridge to true freshmen Darius Wade, a 6-foot, 201-pounder from Middletown, Del., who like Murphy is regarded as a dual-threat QB, and Troy Flutie, son of Darren Flutie and nephew of Doug Flutie who passed for 3,027 yards and a state-record 47 touchdowns at Natick High last season. Both of them are vying for looks at the backup spot.
“Our challenge is to become as explosive as we can on offense,’’ Addazio said. “I think offense is about creating explosives. It’s hard to go down the field in 3- and 4-yard chunks. Last year we created explosives with the play-action game with Alex and with big, big hits with Andre.
“I think our challenge now is how do we create those explosives? Both those players are gone, where are those explosive plays coming from this year? And I think we hope they’re going to come from the quarterback position.”
On defense, the Eagles want to create more turnovers. BC returns six defensive starters, including safeties Dominique Williams and Sean Sylvia and linebacker Steven Daniels, the team’s leading returning tackler after 88 stops (54 solo) and three sacks last season.
“I love our team,’’ Addazio said. “I love the team because the way they’ve responded to this. Our program is tough every day. I mean, every day you’ve got to bring it at Boston College, whether it’s in the winter program, in the weight room, whether it’s in preseason or the season, we compete in everything we do. We test our team.
“We work the mental toughness component of our team all the time, and I think our kids have really bought into it and now I think they wear it as a badge and they enjoy that challenge.’’