As the names of other commits poured in around him and Boston College’s 2019 football recruiting class began to take shape, Zay Flowers wanted to get an idea of the talent that would be joining him at the Heights.
Flowers, a 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pound burner out of University School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., hauled in by the Eagles to play wideout, made his commitment to BC in December, so he had plenty of names to look up.
One of the first to stick out to him was Shitta Sillah, a 6-5, 235-pound defensive end from Mater Dei Prep in Middleton, N.J.
“I Googled him,” Flowers said with a few laughs. “I peeped Shitta and I was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be all right.’ ”
At the same time, Sillah was doing his own research. He liked what he saw.
“We saw a couple guys,” Sillah said. “We were excited about it. We had a lot of people that had talent.”
When Eagles coach Steve Addazio announced his recruiting class in the winter, he had an idea how high the ceiling could be. The 16 new faces represent what the program believes is one of its best classes in years. From Flowers and Sillah to receiver Ethon Williams, running back Pat Garwo, and offensive lineman Christian Mahogany, the Eagles have young players that can make an impact.
The question, with BC opening its season Saturday at home against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia Tech, is how soon? That’s a question Addazio couldn’t answer and, more importantly, a process he doesn’t want to rush.
“Is all that talent ready this year? No,” Addazio said. “Some of it will be. Some now, some maybe a couple three, four weeks from now. But walking away from training camp: legitimate class.”
Flowers and Sillah were listed on the two-deep released at the beginning of the week, and both are expected to contribute immediately.
With hands and speed, Flowers has the potential to be an instant weapon for quarterback Anthony Brown. During preseason camp, Flowers turned heads by flashing his play-making ability in the passing game.
“Zay Flowers is a dynamic guy, right? He’s electric,” Addazio said. “You’ll see a lot of him on Saturday. He’s got legitimate, bona fide, flat go-by-you speed. His stop-start and tight turn out of cuts is pretty unique. He’s got maturity and real ball savvy to him. You’ll see a lot of Zay Flowers.”
Sillah could very easily carry on the lineage of dominant defensive linemen where Harold Landry and Zach Allen left off before going to the NFL.
“I think Shitta is a marvelous young prospect,” Addazio said. “His athletic numbers are kind of eye-popping. He’s a young guy. He’s not even scratching at it right now. But he’s going to be a force to contend with here at BC in the future.”
Knowing just how steep the learning curve can be for a freshman in the ACC, the Eagles veterans were eager to offer guidance. When Brown arrived at BC in 2016, he was a part of a class that was dedicated to shifting the culture by knitting itself as tightly as possible. Brown made sure to reach out to Flowers before the freshman arrived on campus in the spring.
“He was just telling me, keep working and when you get up here, we’re going to do our thing,” Flowers said. “It made me feel more comfortable because I come from a long way. So it made me feel better just, like, just feeling at home.”
That connection made it easier to hit the ground running when the team began workouts.
“Just trying to take him under my wing throughout the summer because he’s a really, really good player,” Brown said. “Just getting him to know what he’s doing so he can play at an elite level. It’s a lot different when you’re an elite player that doesn’t really know what you’re doing, than if you’re an elite player and you know what you’re doing. You can play a lot faster like that. So just getting him a jump start in learning was a big thing for me.”
Team captain Tanner Karafa knows exactly what’s ahead for Sillah because he’d been in the same position on the defensive line when he was a freshman.
“He’s kind of playing the same position I was playing two years ago for coach [Paul] Pasqualoni, the ‘buck’ position. So I’ve been able to try and help him, share some pointers and stuff technique-wise,” Karafa said. “It’s tough coming in as a freshman. You don’t know what to expect, so I’m trying to help him along in that sense too. Just guide him, be a mentor to him as much as I can. He’s a really good player, good guy, so I hope he takes that and runs with it.”
Star running back AJ Dillon did the same with Garwo, a 5-9, 215-pound running back out of Conwell-Egan High School in Levittown, Pa.
“I feel like we’ve done a really good job as the leaders of the team, taking the young guys under our wing,” Dillon said. “Not that it wasn’t necessarily like that when I got here, but I feel like we’ve had an emphasis on it. Like hard love, we brought them in here before the coaches could even actually do anything with us, and we were out here walking them through their plays just making sure they got their fundamentals down. They know what the standard is when we’re in the weight room, when we’re in the film room, the basic things that you need to know to be successful here.”
Expectations aren’t an issue. The question for the freshmen isn’t if they’ll make a splash this season, it’s when.
“They’re very talented, so the fact that they had a few good guys come in early this past spring was huge for them,” Brown said. “They got their experience, they got a jump start. Just having them here and being able to guide certain freshmen in the right direction and a better direction than what we may have started back in the past is huge for us.”