A stalwart? Manuel Asprilla has been that and so much more as the starting left cornerback for Boston College. A tough-minded, 5-foot-11-inch, 183-pound senior from Everett, Asprilla will make his 38th consecutive start Saturday night when the Eagles host Louisville in matchup of Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division squads at Alumni Stadium.
“He’s been a stabilizing force,’’ said defensive coordinator Don Brown.
BC’s secondary needed Asprilla to provide stability when junior Bryce Jones, the starting right cornerback, was dismissed after five games for an unspecified violation of team rules. His replacement, sophomore John Johnson, made two starts before fracturing his wrist against Clemson Oct. 18, forcing the deployment of junior safety Justin Simmons at right corner.
But there has been no such upheaval at the left cornerback spot.
“He’s the one consistent thing that we have — it’s at left corner with Manny,’’ said defensive backs coach Kevin Lempa. “His leadership has really grown this year because of that. I think it’s his fourth year starting. He’s always been a good player, but he’s gotten better, even as the season’s gone on.
“I’m still looking for some great things from him in these last few games.’’
Last week, Asprilla helped the Eagles (6-3, 3-2) become bowl-eligible by leading the team with 10 tackles (four solo), one tackle for loss, and a pass breakup in a 33-31 victory at Virginia Tech.
Asprilla was recognized as the ACC’s Defensive Back of the Week for the first time in his career.
“Best game, without question,’’ Brown said. “Tends to do that against Virginia Tech.’’
As he spoke after Tuesday’s practice, Brown spotted Asprilla walking past him. “Right, Manny? Best game last year was Virginia Tech?’’
Asprilla nodded, recalling the seven solo tackles and 49-yard interception return he had in a 34-27 victory over the Hokies last Nov. 2.
“And his best game this year so far was Virginia Tech — so far,’’ Brown said. “He’s got some challenges ahead of him.’’
On Saturday night, Asprilla will face a stern test in Louisville’s DeVante Parker, a magnificent 6-3 senior wide receiver who missed the first seven games of the season with a foot injury. Parker has 17 catches for 346 yards in Louisville’s last two games.
“Every week we go against great receivers and I don’t take anyone lightly, whether you’re the best receiver in the country or you’re the worst receiver in the country,’’ said Asprilla, who has recorded 181 tackles, 14 tackles for losses, 23 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions in his career.
“I treat them all the same. But this week, this receiver is really good, probably the best I’ve seen on film thus far this season. But they’re all good and I just feel like I have to come out and do what I do every week, but maybe do a little more this week because he’s different than everybody else.’’
Lempa knows Louisville will likely come after Asprilla because of his slight stature.
“The kid is a big-time player,’’ Lempa said of Parker. “But, you know what? We’re going to match up on him. Manny’s going to do a great job on him. I’m not concerned at all. He’s played against bigger guys and faster guys. I mean, that guy from Clemson [Mike Williams], that guy was a monster.
“They continue to go after him and he continues to stop them. He has a lot of pride. He knows he’s not big in stature, but he’s got a big heart. And he plays that way — on every play.’’
While he continues to be driven by the stinging disappointments of home losses to Colorado State and Clemson — both on end-of-game plays — Asprilla has tried to instill in his teammates in BC’s secondary a steadfast determination.
“The one thing I do is I try to come out every day, even in practice, and try to make sure that nobody can catch a ball on me,’’ Asprilla said. “Things happen, because it’s man-to-man, but I never try to let something get to me or get me down. I just try to play the next play. You’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
Asprilla’s coaches have come to appreciate not only his approach, but the stability he has brought to the secondary.
“The last 3-4 weeks, I don’t care if it’s in practice or in games, if you’re going to catch the ball in his area, you’re going to have to earn it,’’ Brown said. “So that’s what you’re really looking for in a big-time corner.
“I think he has next-level ability, probably inside as a nickel, but he’s starting to showcase his ability on a week-to-week basis and he’s a guy we can really count on.’’
. . .
A hamstring injury will keep Louisville senior linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin out of Saturday’s game. Mauldin is tied for third in the ACC with 6½ sacks and is second in the conference with 12 tackles for loss. Junior defensive tackle Pio Vatuvei (elbow) also will miss the game.Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.