The freshmen on Boston College’s football team all seemed to share the same thought. As they sat awestruck with the rest of their teammates in Section 201 of Gillette Stadium during an outing last Friday night to watch the Patriots’ NFL preseason game against the Carolina Panthers in Foxborough, it occurred to them that they would soon be on that same field.
“It was very cool, because we were watching the NFL players,’’ said Thad Smith, a 5-foot-9-inch, 167-pound freshman wide receiver from Yeadon, Pa. With the Eagles set to open their 2014 football season Saturday afternoon against UMass at Gillette Stadium, “There was the thought, ‘We’re going to play here next weekend. What if we scored a touchdown here, how great would that be?’ ” Smith said.
Smith wasn’t the only one among the 16 true freshmen listed on BC’s depth chart (eight offense, eight defense) who wondered about the very same possibility.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling looking out there and seeing the Patriots and the Panthers and thinking, ‘That’s going to be us out there soon in our first collegiate game, coming out of high school,’ ” said Marcus Outlow, a 5-10, 207-pound running back from Norwich, Conn., who rushed for 3,029 yards and 41 touchdowns his last two seasons at Norwich Free Academy.
“We just have to come out ready and locked in,’’ Outlow said. “And we can’t get starstruck about the stadium we’re going to be playing in.’’
Smith’s freshmen classmates such as quarterback Darius Wade, receiver Gabriel McClary and receiver/return specialist Sherman Alston as well as Outlow, all expressed the hope of making a positive contribution in their collegiate debuts with the Eagles.
“We are all really excited,’’ said Alston, a 5-foot-6-inch, 163-pounder from Harlem, N.Y., who compiled 1,689 all-purpose yards his senior year at Saint Joseph’s (N.J.), rushing for 1,197 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“We are Coach [Steve] Addazio’s first [recruiting] class, so we had a lot of expectations from the older guys,’’ said Alston, who hoped to prove wrong those Division 1 schools who overlooked him because of his size. “They want to see what we’re made of, so this week we finally get to show everybody what we’re made of.’’
There was plenty of hype surrounding Addazio’s first recruiting class, which at one point last summer was regarded among the Top 25 in the nation and headlined by four-star prospects Harold Landry, a 6-3, 257-pound defensive end from Fayetteville, N.C., Jon Hilliman, a 6-foot, 215-pound running back from Plainfield, N.J., and former St. Sebastian’s standout Connor Strachan, a 6-2, 231-pound linebacker from Wellesley.
“I don’t think it has got anything to do with it being my recruiting class,’’ Addazio said Wednesday after conducting a light practice in shorts and shells at Shea Field. “I think it’s just got to do with the fact there’s a lot of expectation out of this recruiting class.
“I remember at Florida, that [first recruiting class] was [Tim] Tebow’s class and we went out and won a lot of games with that class. I think this class feels it is that first full class and it’s a good one. They’re going to play a lot of football here and they want to play early. They’ve got the right mind-set.’’
Said Wade, who was listed as backup to starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, “We have a lot of young athletes and playmakers who are hoping to step up, and this is definitely a great time to do it in the first game.’’
But Addazio said the biggest concern with putting freshmen on the field for the first time revolved around their ability not only to execute in a game situation but to secure the football.
“Especially the ones who are touching the ball, you’re just really nervous [about],’’ Addazio said. “I don’t care who you are, as a young player you’re going to make mistakes when you get in there for the first time. We just can’t afford all that. But, in the same breath, it has to happen and it’s got to take its course. So we’re just trying to get them in the right situation.’’
A year ago, then freshman running back Tyler Rouse opened some eyes when he burst upon the scene with a 29-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run that helped BC avert a shutout in a 35-7 loss at Southern California. This season, there seemed to be no shortage of candidates capable of emerging as the first to score among BC’s freshmen.
“I’d probably have to give it to a running back, because we run the ball a lot in the red zone, so maybe Jon or Marcus will be one of the freshmen who might score,’’ said McClary.
“We’re going to be happy for whoever gets the opportunity,’’ said Outlow, taking the diplomatic route. “We’re all going to be ready to score, of course. I’ve just got to be prepared. But I feel Gabe could get one, Sherm could get one, Thad could get one. I know there are a lot of guys who are going to be ready to get it in the end zone.’’
“Ah, that’s a tough one,’’ added Wade. “But I think I have to give it to the little guy, young Sherm. He’s just so explosive. He’s a phenomenal athlete and I know we’ll find a way to get him the ball, get him in space and let him make something happen.’’
Alston said he wouldn’t mind if it was him.
“I hope I am the first,’’ he said. “But if I’m not, I’m just going to focus on winning and having a great season.’’