The Boston College football team enters its fifth day of practice Friday, but it will be the first time players engage in contact drills. With the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday night and its first game against Weber State less than a month away, let’s take a look at how the Eagles’ roster breaks down at each position.
After a summer-long, four-man quarterback battle last year, the Eagles are enjoying some stability, with 26-year-old sophomore Dave Shinskie entering camp as the named starter. He split time with Justin Tuggle, who transferred after the season ended, in the first three games before receiving the starting nod after a brutal loss at Clemson. The former minor league baseball player led BC to a surprising 8-4 record and Emerald Bowl berth behind 2,049 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Lurking immediately behind Shinskie on the depth chart is true sophomore Mike Marscovetra, a quarterback with prototypical size and improving arm. He outplayed Shinskie in the spring game, but remains entrenched as the backup. True freshmen Chase Rettig and Josh Bordner likely will redshirt this year, as is BC’s custom with quarterbacks when they aren’t the only option.
The BC offense lives and dies with junior running back Montel Harris, who finished second in school history with 308 carries last season, amassing 1,457 yards and 14 touchdowns. Harris also set a BC record with 264 rushing yards in a game against NC State last season. Harris’ refusal to go down on the first tackle and tireless endurance carried the Eagles’ offense last year, and will again in 2010.
The running back corps took a blow when backup Rolandan Finch suffered a torn ACL in the spring, opening the door for Sterlin Phifer to serve as Harris’ primary backup. Phifer redshirted last season. Outside of Phifer is fullback and captain James McCluskey, who will carry the ball in goal-line situations and occasionally lead block if the Eagles run out of the I-formation.
This group has a lot of questions to answer. Leading receiver Rich Gunnell and steady backup Justin Jarvis both graduated, leaving only junior Colin Larmond Jr. with real game experience. The tall, speedy wideout stretched the field with 29 catches for 596 yards and five touchdowns. He will be expected to step up and carry a young receiving corps. Redshirt freshman Johnathan Coleman is one of those young receivers, and he has impressed during the spring same and camp so far. He has a shot at grabbing a starting spot away from senior Billy Flutie, Doug’s nephew. Speedy sophomore Clyde Lee and true freshman Shakim Philips also are in the mix.
Sophomore Chris Pantale quietly emerged as a solid pass catcher during his freshman campaign, hauling in 25 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Expect him to break out as a safety blanket for Shinskie. Senior Lars Anderson has never lived up to his potential, but remains a decent receiver and better blocker.
BC has earned the nickname “O-Line U,” and this group will absolutely show why. Anthony Costanzo, starting for a fourth straight year, protects Shinskie’s blind side at left tackle. Massive senior Rich Lapham bookends the line at right tackle. Three-year starter Thomas Claiborne bulldozes the run game from the right guard spot, and Emmett Cleary will get the nod at left guard after fighting off Nate Richman last year. Richman, meanwhile, will replace steady Matt Tennant, who was lost to graduation, at center. This fivesome will be expected to pave the way for another strong season on the ground and give Shinskie, who is still improving, enough time in the pocket.
Senior captain Alex Albright and redshirt sophomore Max Holloway, whom many are touting for a breakout season, will rush the passer from the defensive end spot. Albright’s eight tackles for a loss last year ranked second on the team, and he will need to avoid injuries, which have plagued him in the past. Steady senior Brad Newman and wide-receiver-turned-end Ifeyani Momah will provide depth off the edge.
The tackles situation is a bit murkier, with leader Damik Scafe still recovering from back surgery. He battled through injuries last season and likely will do it again, but his status for the season opener is still unclear. Three big men will compete during camp for the right to start — Conor O’Neal, Dillon Quinn and Bryan Murray. All three provide the girth the Eagles need to allow their linebackers to roam, and though early reports say O’Neal holds a slight advantage, this battle will be one to watch closely.
The feel-good story of college football will play out in Alumni Stadium, as senior linebacker Mark Herzlich makes his improbable return from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Doctors weren’t sure if he would survive, and playing football again was practically ruled out. Herzlich, however, has battled back and beat the cancer and is now on the finishing stages of his physical rehab to get back into football shape. The 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year remains sidelined with a foot fracture, but time off the practice field also will help improve his leg strength and flexibility.
Alongside Herzlich will be sophomore Luke Kuechly, a freshman phenom who racked up 158 tackles, good for second in the NCAA, last year. With a year under his belt, the kid teammates call “Wonderboy” may actually get better. On the weakside will be either Mike Morrissey, a former walk-on who received plenty of time last season, or Will Thompson, the top defensive recruit from former head coach Jeff Jagodzinski’s 2011 class who has yet to make an impression.
Lacking a great pass rush, the Eagles’ defense received stellar contributions from their corners and safeties last season, which they will need once again. Senior DeLeon Gause and junior Donnie Fletcher — both of whom have started in the past — are battling it out for one spot, while redshirt sophomore Isaac Johnson has assumed the starting role on the other side. At the safety position, senior captain Wes Davis mans the free safety spot for a second straight year after leading the team with four interceptions in 2009. BC must replace hard-hitting Marcellus Bowman at strong safety, and it appears it will come down to converted linebacker Dominick LeGrande and athletic defensive back Jim Noel.
Ryan Quigley took his lumps as a true freshman punter, but now a junior, the South Carolina native has blossomed into one of the ACC’s best. He set a BC record for punts in a season with 77 and finished second in the ACC with 23 punts inside the 20-yard line. In addition to booting kickoffs, he may also be asked to kick field goals. Redshirt freshman Nate Freese, a former two-star recruit, will get a long look, but Quigley may turn into Mr. Everything on special teams for the Eagles.
Photo courtesy of Alex Trautwig / The Heights