At almost every practice since he stepped on the field at Boston College, David Dudeck has heard coach Frank Spaziani barking. It was the same thing, over and over again. But, honestly, he had no clue who or what Spaziani was talking about.
It was something with an H. That much Dudeck could make out. He heard it every time he lined up in the backfield.
He would look around. There was no one on the roster named Hobbs, but he looked anyway. All he could think was, “Who is this Hobbs guy?”
It went on for weeks. It wasn’t until this past Tuesday that it finally dawned on Dudeck.
“This guy’s calling me Hobbs the whole time,” he said.
Hobbs as in Roy Hobbs. As in the Bernard Malamud novel. As in the Robert Redford movie. As in “The Natural.”
The movie came out nine years before he was born. The book was lifetimes before his. So Dudeck did what any 18-year-old would do. He Googled.
“I had to,” he said.
To Spaziani, after watching the true freshman step in as the Eagles’ second-string running back when injuries and issues thinned the depth chart, the nickname made perfect sense.
Dudeck wasn’t even supposed to be on offense, let alone carrying the ball, but he has played in four games this season, mostly as a receiving weapon out of the backfield with 14 catches for 78 yards.
At first, Spaziani considered redshirting Dudeck, but he figured there had to be a use for him. So Spaziani looked around the roster.
Wide receiver? He had guys there.
Defensive back? Maybe.
‘We knew his potential, what he could bring to the offense.’
“But he’s a football player,” Spaziani said, “even if we’re not quite sure where he’s playing.”
After BC began the season with three promising running backs, a knee injury sidelined Tahj Kimble and Rolandan “Deuce” Finch drifted into Spaziani’s doghouse, so the Eagles were down to just Andre Williams.
Spaziani looked over at Dudeck.
“We decided to shock his ecosystem and tell him he’s a running back,” Spaziani said. “We tried him, and we went, ‘Oh my God!’
“That’s what he was — he was like ‘The Natural.’ ”
Dudeck has always felt he could play anywhere. He was a quarterback and wide receiver at the Hun School in Princeton, N.J. He was also a two-sport star, playing center fielder, third base, and shortstop on the baseball team.
He came to BC, though, because he wanted to commit completely to football.
The offer from the Eagles actually didn’t come in until the Friday before national signing day. He also had offers from Navy and Yale, and they were both willing to let him play football and baseball.
He was leaning toward joining his brother, also a football player, at Navy.
“I had a list of pros and cons,” said Dudeck.
Then, finally, the phone rang.
It was BC, and Dudeck already had a crush on the program. The history and the academics had him starry-eyed for a while. He had come to a camp at The Heights after his junior year in high school and had kept in touch with assistant coaches Mike Dawson and Mike Siravo.
Dudeck was driving with a friend, Wendy Laurent, who is now at Penn State, and his younger brother to pick up a hat for Laurent to wear for signing day.
He told Laurent, “Man, it must be nice, you know where you’re going and everything.”
The call came right when they walked out of the store.
“I was thrilled,” said Dudeck. “I jumped right on it.”
Once he got to BC, it became an intrasquad recruiting race to figure out where he’d play. Siravo, the secondary coach, wanted him to be a defensive back.
“I was all for that,” said Dudeck. “I would tell him I could do different things.”
So he started out on defense. Then quarterback Chase Rettig started working on him.
“He would talk to me every day, especially during camp,” Dudeck said. “He would have his little side comments about switching over to the offensive side of the ball.”
“We knew his potential, what he could bring to the offense,” Rettig said.
Even with the quarterback’s lobbying, Dudeck went through camp as a defensive back. Then, injuries and off-field issues ripped through the offensive backfield.
Dudeck played his first game against Clemson in Week 4. He wasn’t overwhelmed. It was a game he had been waiting for.
“I had worked a lot for that,” he said. “That was my goal, that one day I would get there, and it was just awesome to be in that position.’’
For a freshman still trying to adjust to the speed of the Atlantic Coast Conference, in a year in which the Eagles (1-6) have struggled, Dudeck has had Kimble to look to as a mentor. Before every practice, when the running backs stretch, Kimble pulls him over, asks him how things are going, suggests ways to attack coverages.
“He’s been helpful through this whole process,” Dudeck said. “He accepted the fact that I was going to be there, too, and he’s done everything since then to help me in that position.”
Dudeck’s still a work in progress, but he picks up quickly on just about everything — his nickname notwithstanding.
It’s catching on, though. He has figured out what Spaziani means. His teammates are starting to, as well.Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.