Marcus Valdez isn’t sure exactly when it will sink in that he’s playing his final game at Boston College, but he expects it to happen very soon.
“I don’t know if it’ll hit me before the game, or on the field after the game, or a week or two later, but it will definitely hit me,” said the defensive end, a captain in his sixth year with the program. “I’m grateful to be playing for this long here, at the same school. That’s rare, so I’m just going to enjoy every moment.”
As the Eagles (3-8, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) close out the season at home against Syracuse (6-5, 3-4) Saturday, they do so with their seniors and graduate students in mind.
Coach Jeff Hafley said the plan is to play the usual starters while also cycling in seniors and graduate students whenever possible.
“It will be emotional,” Hafley said. “We want to make sure we do everything we can so that it’s a good day for those guys.”
Valdez said playing for BC has changed his life and allowed him to live out a childhood dream.
He has played part of the season with a torn UCL in his right elbow, but he hasn’t let it slow him down. Valdez, who made it clear he doesn’t plan to return for a seventh season, epitomizes a BC class that has stayed unified during a tough stretch.
Hafley is grateful for the way they’ve continued to work diligently during a disappointing year. He wants nothing more than to send them out in style.
“It hasn’t been perfect, but there’s no quit,” Hafley said. “There’s resiliency, and that’s going to propel us into the future. I really believe that. That’s a huge bright spot for me in a very hard season.”
Hafley has weaved many young players into the mix along the way, both out of necessity and with a long-term vision in mind. The Eagles have 34 underclassmen on their two-deep roster, the most in the ACC, including nine starters.
At the same time, savvy leaders such as Josh DeBerry, Vinny DePalma, Zay Flowers, Jaelen Gill, Elijah Jones, Phil Jurkovec, Danny Longman, Jason Maitre, Chibueze Onwuka, George Takacs, Valdez, and Jaiden Woodbey have complemented that promising group.
“They’ll always be very meaningful for me, becoming a first-time head coach and being with those guys for the first three years,” Hafley said. “This is a special group, and that’s why this game is important. Just go and empty it all out for the seniors.”
One of those seniors, Flowers, has cemented himself as one of the best players in program history. A semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award that recognizes the nation’s top receiver, Flowers is BC’s career leader with 192 receptions and 2,946 yards and is one away from tying the record with 28 touchdown receptions.
In one sense, those stats blow him away. In another, he believes it’s simply a product of how seriously he takes his craft.
“It was definitely a goal of mine, but I never imagined coming in and breaking the records,” Flowers said. “I always imagined I was going to be solid and a player that was just good, not breaking all the records. But I’m not really surprised by it. It’s what I work for, honestly.”
Once the season is over, and he almost certainly declares for the NFL Draft, Flowers will take some time to process everything he and the Eagles have accomplished. For now, he is focused on going out with a win against a talented opponent.
This Syracuse team has taken a highly unusual path, winning its first six games and garnering national recognition before losing its last five by an average of 15.6 points.
On defense, Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax highlight an aggressive linebacking corps. The offense features a dual-threat quarterback in Garrett Shrader, an explosive wide receiver in Oronde Gadsden II, and one of the country’s best running backs in Sean Tucker. Hafley called it a “three-headed monster” and referred to Tucker as “probably the best running back” the Eagles have played.
“The game plan is to stop him,” Valdez said. “We can’t let him get going.”
Many BC players have difficult decisions ahead of them — whether to return next year, transfer, declare for the NFL Draft, or end their football careers. Whatever path they take, the Eagles are first determined to collectively punctuate an up-and-down season with a satisfying triumph.
Said Maitre: “Last game of the season, last game of your career, whatever it is, you finish what you started.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.