When Lukas Denis first walked on campus at Boston College four years ago and met Will Harris, he knew he was looking at something special.
At 6 feet 2 inches, 210 pounds, Harris was essentially a pre-packaged NFL safety.
“I just saw him and I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a big dude,’ ” Denis said. “You don’t see guys that are that big that can move that well. So he’s definitely a freak athlete.”
But both of them knew that their work had to match their talent, because they had examples in front of them of players who had already put the work in.
There was a line of Boston College defensive backs making the leap to the NFL. They had watched Justin Simmons go from BC to the Denver Broncos and John Johnson go from The Heights to the Los Angeles Rams. Kamrin Moore and Isaac Yiadom, two of the leaders in the secondary last season, are in the predraft process right now.
As the Eagles opened spring practice Tuesday under the bubble at Alumni Stadium, Denis and Harris knew the baton was being passed to them.
“That’s something that I’ve been trying to work on ever since I got to BC,” Harris said. “I think it’s cool. Especially playing defense, playing safety, where you kind of have to be a leader, you have to be someone who’s very vocal. So I’ve been trying to build that role ever since I got to BC. So at this point, it’s just become second nature.
“We had leadership last year with Kam and Ike. Before them it was John, before him it was Justin. We all just try to make each other better and base our games off different things that we all do.”
The Eagles forced the second-most turnovers in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season (25), and Denis and Harris accounted for nearly half of the takeaways. Denis snagged a nation-leading seven interceptions. Harris recovered a nation-leading four fumbles.
“We preach all the time just running to the ball,” Harris said. “Because when you run to the ball at full speed, good things are bound to happen. There’s bound to be tipped balls, there’s bound to be fumbles.”
It doesn’t matter who makes the play, but Denis and Harris are always competing to be the one who does.
“We have such a relationship where it’s like, ‘He’s trying to make this play. I’m trying to make this play,’ ” Denis said. “I think that just makes us better because we believe so highly in each other.”
Despite the sour ending to last season, with a loss to Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl, the Eagles (7-6) put together their second straight seven-win season and take that momentum with them into the spring.
“We’re just looking to keep building on that,” Harris said. “All of these teams get different every year. Some guys leave, some guys graduate.
“Now we’re trying to build on this team that we have now. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back who are experienced, who are ready to play. We’re all just trying to get better every day and just push each other.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.