PINEHURST, N.C. — Every time the Boston College Eagles stepped into the workout room this offseason, they had to stare at all the games that slipped through their fingers.
There was a sign on the wall that laid out every loss in excruciating detail.
The loss to Colorado State in September, when the Eagles had a 21-17 fourth-quarter lead and Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson made something out of nothing, turning a fourth-down play with 1:02 left into a 12-yard touchdown pass that let the Rams escape Alumni Stadium with a win.
The loss to Clemson, when BC had a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, but let the Tigers off the hook with a 17-13 win after C.J. Davidson broke loose for a 32-yard score.
The loss to Florida State, when the Eagles were tied 17-all in the third quarter with the No. 3 team in the country only to watch Jameis Winston lead the Seminoles 66 yards down the field to get them into field goal territory with three seconds left — just enough time for Robert Aguayo to nail the winner.
And last, the loss to Penn State after throwing the Nittany Lions into a 21-7 third-quarter hole in the Pinstripe Bowl only to lose the game by an extra point in overtime.
“We had four games that we could have won,” said senior defensive lineman Mehdi Abdesmad.
In their second season under Steve Addazio, the Eagles again posted seven wins and reached a bowl game. But the sign is a reminder of how close they were to making another leap.
It was forced them to constantly remember how slim the margin is for success.
“That’s tough,” Abdesmad said during Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media day. “When you step in and you see that and then you get to work. If you fall down and you see that poster, you can’t fall down anymore. You’ve got to get to work.”
After losing four games by less than a touchdown, the Eagles’ offseason theme was “finish.”
“Finishing games,” said Abdesmad. “Last year we were close a couple of games. We’re going to need to finish those games.
“That’s something that we can feed off and when we go on the practice field, we see. We work on that so we can finish those games.”
The Eagles’ offseason to-do list was a long one. They had to address to loss of starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, they had to restock their offensive line, they had to strengthen their pass rush and get deeper at skill positions.
But the goal of building off last season remained the same. There will be new faces, but the rugged identity that Addazio’s crafted for his team will continue to be its calling card.
“Our strength at Boston College is we play as one,” Abdesmad said. “We don’t have that one star guy that’s going to make all the plays by himself. We all play as one and if one guy goes down, the next guy goes in.”
Abdesmad went down in 2013 — tearing his patella tendon in the third quarter of a loss to Florida State and sitting out the last nine games of the season — and he was champing at the bit to get back in. He returned last season only to suffer another knee injury three games into the season.
He has the Eagles’ Sept. 18 matchup against the Seminoles engrained in his head.
“I’m just trying to get back and make a statement,” he said. “It’s a big game for me and it’s a big game for the team, too.”
While he was recovering, he bonded with offensive lineman Harris Williams, who was nursing his own injury. Williams’s 2014 season lasted six plays before his fractured left ankle ended it. The year before, he was one of the main forces on the Eagles line moving bodies out of the way so Andre Williams could rush for more than 2,000 yards.
Sitting out was difficult, but Harris Williams made a positive out of it.
“I got to step back and I got to see the coaches’ dynamic with the players and how they interact with each other and how I can leverage that being a leader this year and make the team better,” Williams said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of new guys that are very receptive to the message and willing to get better.
“I feel like I can pass down a lot and they can also teach me a lot. I have to take them under my wing since they haven’t played many games, but also they’ve been in the system for three years. So they know all the plays and they’re ready to go. Boston College only recruits tough linemen. So at the core, they’re ready to play. I feel like either you’re born a Boston College offensive lineman or you’re not.”
Both Williams and Abdesmad spent their time off the field preparing themselves to be better leaders once they returned.
“During practice, when we were there, we were trying to help guys and during film, too,” Abdesmad said. “We were trying to talk with them. When we saw something wrong, we would try to help them out.”
They both saw were able to see the highs of last season — like beating USC at Alumni Stadium — and the lows of letting games get away, and they both feel like they can have an impact this season.
“Having stronger senior leadership and helping out the freshmen and underclassmen get acclimated to Boston College academically and football-wise, just getting us to be better so we can overcome in the fourth quarter,” Williams said.
“If we can stick together as a unit in the fourth quarter and just overcome, we can take that next step as a program.”