A year ago, Boston College defensive lineman Zach Allen knew he would have to decide between pursuing a future in the NFL or returning to BC for one final season.
The allure of the NFL was obvious. But so was the potential he saw in the Eagles if he stayed.
He went through the gutting experience of a 3-9 season as a freshman, arguably the lowest point in the program’s history. In coming back, he gave himself an opportunity to see BC’s turnaround come to fruition.
This year, the Eagles (7-4, 4-3 ACC) returned to national prominence, being ranked as high as No. 17 in the nation. By midseason, they already had clinched their fifth bowl bid in six years.
Individually, Allen’s raised his draft stock, solidifying himself as one of the elite defensive ends in the draft pool.
“I’m definitely glad I came back,” Allen said. “From a team aspect, I really came back because of the people — the coaches and the players. This has easily been the most fun I’ve had playing football in my career. So I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
“We won some really special games. The Miami game was a really special game. Just being a part of that and seeing the growth of it come full circle — obviously we still have two games and we’re focused on this one to make this season really special — but definitely glad I came back and anyone would agree that was a good decision.”
For Allen and the rest of the senior class, the year was a blur.
As they prepared to host rival Syracuse (8-3, 5-2) on Saturday in the final game of the regular season, BC’s seniors found themselves caught between preparation and reflection.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that it’s already been four years,” said senior offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. “It’s been a tremendous four years . . . Our recruiting class went through so much from freshmen to now. To build upon it, to have the opportunities we have still this season to have a great year, we’re just trying to finish strong as a group.”
Syracuse, ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press, is the only obstacle standing between Boston College and its eighth win of the season for the first time since 2009. That team went 8-5 under former coach Frank Spaziani.
Looking back, current coach Steve Addazio credited this particular senior class for navigating the resurgence.
“We’ve spent so much time building this program, and painstakingly building it brick by brick, if you will, and so many of these guys have been so instrumental in this,” Addazio said. “I mean, everybody is instrumental, but these guys have been here through the real bulk of this deal. So I’m really close with these guys, like really close with them. That’s hard.
“I have such a great appreciation and love for these kids and what they have been able to endure and what they have done.”
Addazio cited how the senior class led the Eagles back from the depths of an 0-8 conference record in 2015 to bowl eligibility, all while having to deal “once again with some critical curveball injuries,’’ he said.
“But these guys are pretty resilient and they have managed all that,” Addazio said. “So you know, I just think that, yes, it seems like you look around and it’s like, ‘Wow, this went by fast. Like where did these six years go, holy moly.”
The rivalry between BC and Syracuse stretches back to their days as independents. But in recent years, it’s a been a rivalry charged with intensity.
With both teams coming off crushing losses last week.
Syracuse was flattened by Notre Dame, 36-3, in a Shamrock Series showdown at Yankee Stadium, while BC was stunned late in Tallahassee by Florida State, 22-21. With those losses, the stakes of the final regular-season game are heightened.
“We go back far with this team,” said senior safety Will Harris. “That’s just how it is [with] BC-Syracuse, it is what it is and both teams have bought into that. It’s fun for us and it’s fun for them. It’s all in the spirit of competition, though, so it’s always fun having that extra edge on the game.
“We leave everything on the field every week, but especially this game. There’s a little extra emotion behind this game.”