With a breakout 2021 season behind him, and his dream closer than ever, Boston College guard Christian Mahogany had a monumental decision to make.
He could enter the NFL Draft or return to school for another year. Mahogany had stared at the first-round picks displayed on the wall inside Fish Field House, and he knew he had to do everything in his power to join that group.
So he came back for his redshirt junior season and got the party started with a touchdown and keg-stand celebration in the Spring Game. Mahogany, Mel Kiper’s No. 2 guard in the nation, was the big man on campus in more than just a literal sense.
Then it happened — the nightmare every player dreads. Mahogany tore the ACL in his right knee in a “freak accident” back home in New Jersey in the spring of 2022. He had to watch as the Eagles finished last in the nation in rushing yards and sputtered to a 3-9 record.
Once again, as he fielded calls from other colleges, the 6-foot-3-inch, 322-pound Mahogany had options. But if there’s one word everyone who knows Mahogany mentions, it’s “loyalty.” Mahogany, who has persevered through loss throughout his life, knew he had to stay true to the people who stayed true to him and help the Eagles win.
“I thought that with one more year like this, I could probably change my life, and that’s what I wanted to do,” Mahogany said. “I want to have a big year not only for myself, but for the whole team, the coaches, and the community.”
He’s off to a stellar start, anchoring a vastly improved rushing attack from the right guard position. The Eagles (1-1), who host No. 3 Florida State (2-0) at noon Saturday, are averaging 174 rushing yards per game.
When Mahogany is on the field, his presence is undeniable. He provides a nastiness, a fire, and an edge BC sorely missed last season.
Offensive line coach Matt Applebaum said Mahogany sets the tone every snap with his ferocity, awareness, and intelligence. Teammate Jack Conley said “you’d think he’s an alien” the way he moves from Point A to B. Left guard Kyle Hergel called him “a mauler.”
“If you’re playing there alongside him, you better get ready to go, or he’s going to let you know,” head coach Jeff Hafley said.
Mahogany wasn’t always destined for stardom on the football field. Basketball was his first love, and he didn’t start playing football until high school because he was too heavy for his youth age group. He transitioned to the offensive line as a junior.
Christian Maldonado, a mentor who coached him at Paramus Catholic, said Mahogany’s stock skyrocketed that year as he dominated against elite opponents.
“Those were the games where you saw that, ‘OK, this kid’s a different cat. He’s big-time,’ ” Maldonado said.
Maldonado describes Mahogany as someone who inspires those around him and “squeezes the juice” out of every situation.
He’s mellow and intellectual off the field, Maldonado said, but “plays a thousand miles an hour” on the field. It’s a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation.
As Mahogany weighed his college options, Georgia emerged as his top choice as a way to honor his late father and hero, George Mahogany, who grew up in the state.
George Mahogany, who died in 2015 when his son was a teenager, taught him the values he prides himself on today. Maldonado said the loss forced Mahogany to become a man at a young age.
“Christian is where he is today because of those coping skills, those maturity skills,” Maldonado said. “Being able to put things in perspective and compartmentalize and deal with adversity.”
That mind-set helped him again in March of 2021, when his grandmother, Barbara Cerniglia, died at age 76. Cerniglia was like a second mother to Mahogany. He visited her nearly every day, and they cleaned, cooked, and laughed together.
Mahogany was at her side in her final moments. Every year, he plays her “happy birthday” voicemail as a way to keep her close. He has her name tattooed on his left wrist, and he proudly sported a necklace with her thumbprint that reads “Forever in our Hearts” at ACC Football Kickoff this summer.
“I miss her every day,” Mahogany said.
The deaths of his father, grandmother, and high school teammate Devin Willock all motivated him to come back stronger than ever following the injury.
There were dark days in the 15-plus months leading up to summer ball. He had never missed a game before, and he had to relearn who he was and what he valued.
He helped out at his high school, did multiple workouts a day, and grinded through physical therapy. He credits his mother, Francine Cerniglia, for keeping him grounded through the bleakest moments.
Now, he’s back, doing what he loves, with a winning season within reach and the dream of becoming a first-round pick still very much alive.
“Christian’s a fighter,” Maldonado said. “He’s been a fighter his whole life. Nothing like that was going to slow him down.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.