BC, Penn State put faith in their strengths

December, 26, 2014
Dec 26
Strength versus strength.

Now that the bowl week is over, the visits to the 9/11 memorial, the Rockettes and the New York Stock Exchange completed, that’s what the New Era Pinstripe Bowl figures to be when Boston College (7-5, 4-4 ACC) takes on Penn State (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

“We’re going to stick to what we know and however we think we can move the ball on them, that’s what we’re going to do,” Eagles wideout Josh Bordner said. “As far as the passing game, if we need to pass it, we’re gonna pass it. If the run game is working, we’re gonna run it. We’re really just gonna stick with what’s working.”

The Eagles ran on a whopping 72.5 percent of their offensive plays (589 of 812) in 2014, up from 66.6 percent in 2013 (excluding the bowl game against Arizona) and 42.2 percent in 2012. They had good reason to run the ball that often, from controlling the clock to the fact that’s what the personnel is best suited to do.

BC finished No. 121 nationally in passing attempts this season (223), ahead of only the three service academies, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Minnesota and New Mexico. So there’s a good chance Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop knows what’s coming from Ryan Day’s offense at this point.

Or at least he thinks he does. Because there’s always a chance that second-year BC coach Steve Addazio will decide to let it roll on Saturday, pulling out all the stops in pursuit of that elusive eighth win.

“We take a lot of pride in where we are,” BC senior co-captain Sean Duggan said. “Even at the beginning of this year people were doubting us, saying it was gonna be a rebuilding year. I think as a [senior] class it’s pretty awesome to be a part of the turnaround and to kinda help lay the next brick of what Coach Addazio started here.

“The program is going in a great direction right now.”

Going from 2-10 in 2012 to 7-6 in 2013, with a bowl (blowout) loss to Arizona, represented a step in the right direction. Now the Eagles want to take another.

“That’s all we’ve been talking about is kinda taking that next step,” Bordner said. “It kinda felt like last year we were more satisfied with getting back to a bowl game. This year we’re excited to be going to New York City and playing in the Pinstripe Bowl, and we’re looking forward to having an opportunity to win the game.”

To do that, they’ll have to prevail in the strength vs. strength matchup.

Penn State boasts the best run defense in the country, giving up the fewest yards per game on the ground (84.75), the fewest yards per rush (2.56) and the fewest overall rushing yards (1,017). The Nittany Lions were tied for eighth nationally in opponents’ rushing attempts per game (33.08) and tied for 13th in rushing touchdowns allowed (12).

Eagles left guard Bobby Vardaro said the Penn State defense, with linebackers like Mike Hull playing a key role, reminds him of the scheme former BC defensive coordinator Bill McGovern used to run.

“It’s definitely a tough defense,” he said, “and I’m pretty excited to run against it again.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Zettel, Parker Cothren
AP Photo/Kathy WillensPenn State's defense apparently has talents other than shutting down opponents' ground game.
The numbers suggest that James Franklin’s crew is uniquely qualified to shut down the biggest strength of Steve Addazio’s team, so why give the Eagles a chance to win?

Because as Mark Twain famously said, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Consider that as powerful and effective as PSU’s rushing D was, BC’s wasn’t far behind. The Eagles finished third nationally in total rushing yards allowed (1,146), fourth in rushing yardage allowed per game (95.5), eighth in yards per rush (3.10) and tied for 24th in rushing TDs allowed (14).

If you include only rushing defense in conference games, Penn State finished No. 11 (107.5 yards per game) and BC finished No. 12 (111.63). Finally, if you include only rushing defense against Power 5 opponents, the Eagles finished No. 5 nationally (101.44 yards per game) and the Nittany Lions finished No. 8 (107.5).

So while Penn State will probably be able to slow down the BC rushing attack, if the Lions try to run (which is not their strength) with Akeel Lynch, they will also likely find the going slow. And you can bet BC defensive coordinator Don Brown -- the original “dude” -- will be coming after QB Christian Hackenberg.

The 6-foot-4, 234-pound sophomore was the Nittany Lions’ biggest offensive weapon in 2014, throwing for 2,606 yards and eight touchdowns. But he also threw 15 interceptions and was dropped a whopping 42 times -- tying Penn State for No. 122 nationally in sacks allowed.

Count on the Eagles’ D (30 sacks) to try adding to those numbers.

“Getting to the quarterback has kinda been a staple of our defense ever since Coach Brown got here,” Duggan said. “And our defense really depends on that, so we’re gonna definitely need to execute on our game plan.”

Both sides know the X’s and O’s, and both know what’s at stake beyond them.

Center Andy Gallik remembers last year’s loss to Arizona all too well and wants the final game of his fifth season at Boston College to end differently.

“Being in New York, on this big stage, against a great team in Penn State,” he said, “I think that now is kinda the time for us to re-establish the journey that [the seniors] started last year and close it out with a bowl win so that the younger guys can go into next season with a brighter perspective of what they want to accomplish and kinda up the goals a little bit.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Addazio's success a mix of style, substance

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Steve Addazio has wished out loud, on more than one occasion, for just one more year of eligibility for quarterback Tyler Murphy.

The feeling is mutual.

“I think the team will be even better next year,” Murphy said. “Even though they’ll be young, I think they’ll be even better because a lot of these young guys are getting a lot of reps and [are being] forced to play in game situations. And Coach Addazio and the coaches are really doing a great job of just developing these kids into young men and really helping them grow.

“I wish I had a few more years to play, because they’re gonna be competing for championships in a few years.”

Heck, Bobby Vardaro has been on campus in Chestnut Hill for five years and he’s not ready to leave yet, either. The team finally has a coach who seems to be a perfect fit for it, and the fifth-year offensive lineman would love to be a part of what’s to come from that marriage.

“He’s all about the grind,” the North Reading, Massachusetts, native said. “What do they say? ‘I’ll coach ya hard and I’ll love ya hard.’ BC is kinda the perfect place for him in that aspect, because he can really grind us -- we’re workers, we’re like the blue-collar work mentality with the white-collar education.

“So I think he’s at a great place for his coaching style and he’ll only get better in the future.”

After back-to-back seven-win regular seasons despite just one recruiting class to Addazio’s name at BC, there's good reason to believe in the Eagles' future.


Before the 2014 season kicked off, Addazio told anyone who would listen just how precarious the Eagles’ perch was.

Yes, they had a successful first year -- winning seven games, producing a Heisman finalist (Andre Williams) and the team’s first bowl berth in three years, hard on the heels of a 2-10 season.

But Addazio, who came to Chestnut Hill after two seasons at Temple, knew 2014 could have followed a different tack.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised because I know it’s fragile in here right now,” he said. “We’re just a couple of games away from nine wins. I think this year the way it played, we’re not really a couple of wins away from five. But going into this season, I didn’t know.

[+] EnlargeMurphy
AP Photo/Charles Krupa"He's real. If he says he's gonna do something, he's gonna do it. He's one of those guys you love to have on your side," BC quarterback Tyler Murphy said of Addazio.
“Honestly. I’m a realist about things. Unknown quarterback -- I mean, I knew him but no one else did. We replaced three of five offensive linemen. Everybody’s talking about, ‘Oh, you’ve got this veteran offensive line.’ We replaced three out of five starters. So there were some gaps in here.

“And next year we’re gonna have to replace our offensive line,” he said. “That’ll be a challenge. But our skill players will be another year more experienced. We’ve gotta replace our quarterback but we feel good about our young guys. But here we go again. We’re still really unknowns. And that’s where we are in this program right now. I know the powers that be, the people that matter, know that.”

After the coach’s name surfaced in regard to high-profile coaching openings at Florida and Michigan following the Eagles’ second straight seven-win season and bowl berth, the BC brain trust decided to reaffirm the school’s commitment to Addazio by tacking a two-year extension onto his original six-year contract. Now, instead of his deal being up after 2018, Addazio is under contract in Chestnut Hill through 2020.

There are reasons to quibble with the coach's record in his first two seasons, including at-times-questionable play calling (both too conservative and too aggressive) and an inability this season to solve costly special-teams problems.

Following Nate Freese's graduation after last season BC has used three place-kickers in 2014, finishing the regular season tied for No. 104 nationally after converting just 61.1 percent of field goals (11-for-18) and No. 128 and dead last in point after percentage, just 82.1 percent (32-for-39). The Eagles lost three games by four points or fewer, with missed kicks featuring prominently in all three.

But the overall trend in the past two seasons is positive and the extension is a public affirmation of something Addazio talked about earlier in the week, the alignment between the coaching staff and the administration.

“You talk about evaluating the job that you have, the alignment is really, really important,” he said. “For you to succeed, there’s gotta be great alignment. Everybody thinks, ‘Some guy is gonna come in with some great scheme and they’re gonna fix everything.’ Nothing is further from the truth. I know fans want to hear that, I guess. But it’s all about managing, developing a program, leading men.

“Plays are plays, schemes are schemes. When you start getting caught up in all that, thinking that that’s how you build your program or that’s how you get your program right, usually you’re heading down a bad path in my opinion. Really, the great coaches that I’ve been around and the programs that have succeeded are done with guys that have great vision, leadership, development of men, recruiting. Those are the most important. Nowhere in there did it say, ‘Run three great football plays.’

“I think we’re aligned here with the right values, the values that represent the university and where we want this program to be. I think that’s what makes this a pleasure.”


There were two Steve Addazios on the “SportsCenter” set this past Friday.

One sat in a black suit over a white shirt and a maroon-and-gold-striped tie, calmly discussing the inaugural College Football Playoff. The other stood before his smiling players, gray BC T-shirt soaked, pointing at the camera and bellowing a challenge.

How did the 55-year-old manage that?

The second Addazio was a photo from this past summer, when the coach accepted the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” The juxtaposition of the fierce Addazio (close to life size) over the shoulder of the measured one provided a glimpse behind the passionate coach’s public persona.

Addazio knows how to modulate. He’s not in the supermarket sweating and screaming about finding the best produce.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAddazio admits that going into the 2014 season, he wasn't sure what to expect from his team.
“You’d have to be around Steve all the time to know that while he’s an inherently passionate person, its like anyone,” BC athletic director Brad Bates said. “None of us are the same personality 24-7. What you might see on national TV on the sideline isn’t what he’s going to be every day, every hour.”

When Bates hired Addazio at BC two years ago, he’d done his homework. He knew that the Eagles were getting a meticulous planner, a diligent manager and a good football mind.

“Probably more meaningfully,” Bates said, “he’s a genuine person who cares about staff and people he’s around.”

Addazio stays up to date on the other teams in Chestnut Hill, and when a team pulls off a big win or suffers a particularly painful defeat he’ll stop by that coach’s office to check in.

The coach has a similar relationship with his players.

“He’s real. If he says he’s gonna do something, he’s gonna do it,” Murphy said. “He’s one of those guys you love to have on your side, because he’s always gonna have your back no matter what the situation is. He’s always gonna stand by your side and defend you and be there for you in tough times.”

The Addazio the team sees at “family dinner,” when the players dine with their position coaches and their families, is very different from the one it sees at practice or during games. And that’s important.

“[He’s] not totally different. The emotional spectrum is still there,” Vardaro said. “He can kinda fire himself up even at family dinner. But he is a little more low-key, which is nice. You can tell he really cares about us off the field.

“You can go into his office and just kinda talk to him about life. It is nice to have that, not different personality but those two different things to kind of play off of. Definitely need the energy on the field, and it’s nice to have that calmer version of him off the field so you can talk to him about things that need to get done.”


In his four decades at the school, Barry Gallup has worked for seven different Boston College head coaches. He’s seen just about every management style and coaching philosophy and the accompanying success or failure.

When Addazio was hired, Gallup saw someone who as a Northeast native understood the institution and knew what needed to be done to revive its proud tradition.

“It was an easy transition, his style was exactly what was needed at the time,” Gallup said. “The program needed energy, it needed discipline. He certainly provided that.”

He also brought in a talented and well-suited staff and empowered them. Addazio calls each position coach the head coach of that unit, and holds them responsible for their players on and off the field and for recruiting the next generation at each spot.

Recruiting efforts have been redoubled -- Gallup says the staff spends more time on recruiting than any other he’s been on at BC. And as recently as Dec. 10 the Eagles’ 24-member 2015 class was ranked in ESPN Recruiting Nation’s top 40, at No. 36.

Already a number of Addazio recruits have made an impact, led by freshman running back Jonathan Hilliman. The 6-foot, 215-pounder carried the ball 185 times (a new BC rookie record) for 712 yards and 12 TDs.

Addazio also implemented key off-the-field changes, switching to morning practice to minimize interruptions for both football and school and establishing new traditions like wearing blazers and ties to games, attending pregame mass on campus and singing the alma mater in the locker room after wins.

“Now does that win games?” Gallup said. “Not by itself, but those things build pride in BC football.”

Following a few down years, that definitely was needed.

“They just needed leadership and direction. They were anxious to win,” Gallup said. “It’s not a criticism [of former coach Frank Spaziani]. Steve was in the right place at the right time and he’s the right person.”


As the Eagles prepare to play Penn State on Dec. 27 (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) at Yankee Stadium in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Addazio is as involved as ever.

In one practice, midway through preparations, Addazio went from drill to drill, position to position, stepping in and doing them himself when he felt they weren’t being done correctly.

That’s another big difference between Addazio and some of his predecessors, like Spaziani and Tom O’Brien. While those coaches were more likely to stand on the 50-yard line and watch, Addazio is right there in the middle of things.

“He jumps right in, he’s not an observer, he’s a participant,” Gallup said. “He loves it.”

addazio I'm a micromanager, for sure. I'm involved in everything. On the field, off the field, recruiting. I just kinda feel like when you're at a place like BC, you gotta operate all the machines in the factory.

-- BC coach Steve Addazio
The players do, too.

“It’s a little intimidating, not gonna lie,” Vardaro said with a chuckle. “Obviously you know his energy is extremely high. Especially he loves to get in there with the offensive line, because he used to coach them. [He loves] coaching us. We do a lot of re-dos.

“Coach Addazio is an incredible offensive line coach. He’s a great teacher and we’ve just been able to kinda follow exactly what he’s told us, and as you can see it’s done pretty well for us.”

BC’s offensive line helped the team finish the season tied for No. 8 nationally in rushing attempts per game at 49.08 and No. 15 nationally in rushing offense, producing 251.83 yards a game and 3,022 total rushing yards for the season.

Two years after the Eagles finished No. 119 nationally with 90.92 yards a game rushing, it’s clear that Addazio’s stylistic and philosophical changes have had a dramatic effect.

“I’m a micromanager, for sure,” Addazio said. “I’m involved in everything. On the field, off the field, recruiting. I just kinda feel like when you’re at a place like BC, you gotta operate all the machines in the factory. So I’m the boss and I’ve got a great staff -- this is no slight toward any of [them] -- but I just think as the head coach here I think you’ve gotta be hands-on. Other people could tell you something differently, but that’s my style. That’s the way I’ve always felt it has to be.

“My guys I trust and they’re great. But I still want to know what’s going on, and I want to be in the middle of it. In every decision. There’s nothing that’s gonna happen in that building that I don’t have my fingerprints on. Nothing.”

That Addazio has left a mark on the team in his first two seasons doesn’t surprise Bates, though he does admit that, “Relative to our recent history, I think he’s certainly far exceeded most people’s expectations.”

Murphy’s not surprised, either.

“He’s just one of those guys that if he doesn’t get it right the first time he’s just gonna keep working until he does,” the QB said. “He’s very relentless in what he does. I’m not surprised at all.”

Though no one can see the future, for now Addazio and the Eagles appear to be very well matched.

“I’m very, very comfortable here,” he said. “I’m a round peg in a round hole.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Murphy, BC glad they found each other

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Sometimes, the fit is just right.

Have you ever met someone who was just perfectly suited to his or her environment? Who had the exact right skill set and temperament to do what they were doing, where and when and with whom they were doing it?

Talk to just about anyone around the football program in Chestnut Hill these days, and it quickly becomes clear that’s Tyler Murphy and Boston College.

”Tyler Murphy has made a huge difference,” associate athletic director for football relations Barry Gallup said. “He’s been unbelievable. He’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. He’s come in and done so many little things.”

Things like seeking out teammates to work out with during the summer, sitting with younger players during meals and always responding quickly to messages -- no matter what he has going on at the time.

Gallup has been around BC football a long time; he's now in his fourth decade with the program in some capacity. He says he’s seen a lot of good kids come through the Eagles program, including star quarterbacks such as Tim Hasselbeck, Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Ryan.

But in all his years at BC, he’s never seen anything like Murphy.

The fifth-year graduate student, who transferred to BC after getting his degree from Florida, won the William J. Flynn Award as the team’s most valuable player, certainly no big surprise. After receiving the award at the team’s banquet, Murphy went to Gallup with a request that went something like this:

“Can I ask you a favor?” he said.

“Sure, Tyler, what is it?” Gallup responded.

“Can you give me an email address so I can send a thank-you note?” Murphy said.

Gallup was floored -- he’d never gotten a request like that before. “They said that’s the first time in 20 years anyone’s ever sent a thank-you note,” he said.

Stories like that about Murphy are a dime a dozen. Athletic director Brad Bates has one too.

Early in the season, the team held a luncheon to bring together some of the players and the alumni who had endowed their scholarships. Bates went up to Murphy during the event and asked him a question.

“I just asked him what was different about Boston College and his experience here,” Bates said. “He looked around the room and said ‘This, the engagement with alums. It’s really such a family here.’

“It was particularly meaningful to me how he articulated that.”

[+] EnlargeMurphy
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsIn addition to running for 1,079 yards and throwing for another 1,526, Tyler Murphy made quite an impression off the field in his lone season at BC.
Murphy also has had little trouble expressing himself on the field. He set an ACC rushing record for a quarterback with 1,079 yards (and 10 TDs), shattering the BC single-season and career records along the way. He’s also thrown for 1,526 yards and 11 TDs, offsetting 10 interceptions.

He’s been a star -- the right player in the right place at the right time.

But it took a long time for him to get here. Lightly recruited as a junior in high school in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Murphy started working with QB coach Travis Meyer in hopes of improving his game enough to attract more attention.

The pair worked to improve Murphy’s throwing mechanics, and Meyer put together a film reel to win over skeptical coaches.

“There are a couple of reasons,” Meyer said of the lack of recruiting interest in Murphy. “Being in Connecticut, it’s partially because of the state. Connecticut is not a hotbed for football and especially for quarterbacks.

“I think the perception is that the level of talent he was playing against wasn’t as great as other states. The line of thinking was he might look great on film, but he’s playing against subpar athletes.”

He drew some interest from home-state school UConn, as well as Temple and a few others.

“I know Fordham was trying to get him,” Meyer said. “They loved him, they thought he was extremely talented. I remember talking to the coaches once or twice, they never said it, but I had a feeling that if they could get him they felt they were getting a steal because he was being overlooked.”

The offseason of work helped drum up more interest.

“His junior film was OK, but it wasn’t anything like you saw in his senior film,” Meyer said. “There was vast improvement, as a quarterback but also as an athlete. He flourished.”

Murphy committed to Al Golden and Temple, but then Meyer connected him with two coaches he knew at Florida -- Scot Loeffler and Steve Addazio.

Addazio -- then the Gators’ offensive coordinator -- is a Farmington, Connecticut, native and happened to go to high school with Murphy’s aunt. So the coach and the quarterback bonded, Florida offered him a scholarship and Murphy jumped at the chance.

“I don’t know, who knows where I would have been?” Murphy said, when asked where he might have ended up without Meyer’s help. “I’m just happy that he was there on my side to help me out and I tell him that all the time. I thank him all the time for that.”

Even though the on-field experience at Florida -- which involved more bench time than playing time, and ended with a shoulder injury derailing his shot at the starting job -- didn’t work out exactly as he’d hoped.

“It was tough for him to deal with, I think,” Meyer said. “But I think anytime I talked to him, I almost felt like I was more upset for him than he seemed to be. Because I felt like he should have been playing.

“He took a big risk going down there, I helped him go down there. He always had spirits up about it, but at the same time wasn’t going to settle for not playing.”

Now that he’s reunited with Addazio and just an hour and change away from home, Murphy is making the most of his last go-round.

He goes home whenever he can, visiting family and sometimes stopping in at Wethersfield High to see his former coaches and speak to the players there now.

“I just told them to keep working hard and that everybody in the town is proud of them,” he said of a recent pep talk. “Just keep doing what they’re doing and just have fun and enjoy it, because you look back and sometimes you wish you could be back in high school, putting on a high school jersey and wearing it around the school hallways.”

Soon, Murphy may feel the same way about wearing his college jersey. He’ll don the maroon and gold one final time when the Eagles play Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 27 (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

The fact he’ll be playing his final college game just a few miles from Fordham, one of the first schools to really want him, is fitting. It’s also something Murphy is not spending a lot of time thinking about.

After all, he’s already found the right place for him. Now he’s just trying to get everything he can from the experience.

“It kind of really hasn’t hit me yet that it’s my last college game,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to trying to make the best of it and just approach it like any other big game. Just take care of the ball, just execute and have fun.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

BU, Team USA all-in on Jack Eichel

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
Jack EichelRichard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesJack Eichel (center) faced his BU teammates Friday while playing for the U.S. national junior team.
BOSTON -- Halfway through the first period of Friday night's exhibition match between the United States junior team and Boston University, Jack Eichel jumped on a Terriers defensive miscue and sprang down the right wing on a 2-on-1 break. Eichel, a BU freshman on loan to the United States squad for the upcoming World Junior Championships, dangled the puck as he zeroed in on his Terriers teammate, 6-foot-5 goaltender Matt O'Connor. As the lone BU defender covered the second USA forward, Eichel calmly waited for O'Connor to commit. O'Connor obliged and dropped into his butterfly, and Eichel ripped the puck just under the crossbar to give Team USA its second short-handed goal in 30 seconds and a commanding 2-0 lead.

After Team USA's convincing 5-2 win at Walter Brown Arena, Eichel explained the goal. "I told O'Connor before the game that I was going to look to shoot between his legs," the 18-year-old center said with a wry grin. "So he went down, and I was able to go over him."

The play and postgame comments were vintage Eichel, combining the impish humor of a middle schooler, the man-size physical attributes that have tortured collegiate opponents this season and the extraordinary vision and timing that could make him the top pick in the NHL entry draft next June.

"He has what I call Larry Bird court sense," said former BU coach Jack Parker, who recruited Eichel to Commonwealth Avenue. "He sees the whole ice. Everywhere. He makes plays that other people can't even think about. You better be ready and alert because he's going to burn you."

For the next 16 days, Eichel, who was named Team USA's captain for the BU exhibition, will be among the leaders for the Red, White and Blue at the World Juniors in Quebec and Toronto, Ontario. But Boston University is his home.


This past August, Ben Smith, a USA Hockey national teams consultant from Boston's North Shore, picked Eichel up at his North Chelmsford home and drove him to the USA junior team development camp in Lake Placid, New York. Along the way, a curious Smith asked the teenager if he was excited to attend BU, the school he committed to before he turned 15.

"I can't tell you how excited I am," Eichel told Smith. "It's the first time in my life I'm going to play for my school team."

Think about that. For most young men, dreams of playing for their high school team trump even delusions of NHL glory. But Eichel never did. Instead, he developed his talents with several select programs, such as the Boston Junior Bruins and USA Hockey's National Team Development Program in Michigan. But school was still part of the plan.

"I think Jack was brought up the right way," Parker said. "His family has the right values, and they know they have a very talented human being. But they also know they have a teenager, who they want to take the right stops along the way.

"When I first met him and he committed to coming to BU, I thought he wouldn't really show up and that he'd wind up going to play major junior A [in Canada]," he said. "I've seen it happen in the past. But his parents told me over and over again that he was going to go to BU, and sure enough, here he is."

According to Eichel, it's the ideal fit.

"I never played for a school, so to be able to come to BU and play for the Terriers, it's been a dream come true," he said. "I never really experienced playing a game in front of students and them all being behind you. And then you're at the dining hall the next day, and someone says, 'Good game' or 'Congratulations.' It's really nice."

Despite persistent rumors from north of the boarder that Eichel might follow in the footsteps of players such as former Terrier Charlie Coyle (who left halfway through his sophomore year at BU to play for the St. John's Seadogs), the nation's current leading collegiate scorer said he has no intentions of relocating.

"I'll shoot [the rumor] down now," Eichel said. "I don't plan on going anywhere the second half of the year. I'm perfectly content staying at BU. I love this place."

The feeling is mutual. Following the postgame handshake line on Friday, Eichel stayed on the ice with his Terriers teammates for the traditional stick salute to their fans, a single white USA jersey surrounded by scarlet throwback BU sweaters.

"We talked a little bit after the game, and he said it was very weird playing against his team," BU coach David Quinn said. "He gets along great with his teammates. He's a great leader, and he really cares about winning. He cares about being a great teammate."

Jack EichelGetty ImagesJack Eichel says he's "perfectly content staying at BU" for the second half of the season.

Eichel is a rare talent. He isn't a pretty skater, but he is a powerful one. "He's an impressive player," USA teammate Hudson Fashing of Minnesota said. "His speed. He just explodes. You don't always realize how fast he is when you're out there, but he just flies. One time, I tried to drive wide, and I'm working so hard to get around him, and he just looks effortless. It just looks effortless."

Eichel skates upright and constantly has his head up, which allows him to employ that "Larry Bird court sense" while everyone is focusing on him. He has the strength and size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) to shield the puck until he decides what to do with it.

"We got to come in a couple of weeks before school starte, and get in the weight room," said Matt Grzelcyk, BU's junior captain and a Boston Bruins draft pick. "Some of the guys were shocked at his power off the ice. He's very dedicated to that -- working out on his own. Coming to school, I knew how powerful a skater he was, but I think he's really matured. He can skate with two guys draped all over him. He finds a way to get the job done."

BU forward Danny O'Regan, who played for the U.S. junior team last year, agreed.

"He's just a freak on the ice, the way he can overpower people, and blow by people even with guys holding on to him," the San Jose draft pick said.

But there's also an eye-of-the storm calmness to Eichel that's almost eerie. He never appears to get rattled, even when he's being hacked and whacked. Parker, asked if there was a single word that described Eichel, replied: "Poise."

"From that time to the time he arrived at BU, and now that I've seen him play in college, I can't believe how much better he's gotten," Parker said. "He's made big strides. He's just growing up, getting more mature, getting more physically strong. But all the attributes he had when he was 14 or 15 and dominating kids, he still has now, and he's still dominating kids."

Just don't expect Eichel to admit it. Humility, Quinn said, is a big part of Eichel's makeup, and it was on display again Friday. He said the U.S. junior team was still finding the chemistry needed to succeed on the world stage, and some of his passes were off target. The reality was Eichel's teammates, not unlike the teammates of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, were simply not ready for some of his feeds.

"The best thing about that line, when they're on the bench, they're talking about it," U.S. junior team coach Mark Osiecki said. "It starts with Jack. Jack does a great job speaking almost coaches' language -- not only to his linemates, but the whole team. He does a tremendous job. He's such a great leader and a great kid. So that helps a lot, and we can build out from there."

Or, as O'Regan said: "It's pretty easy to play with him, to be honest. You just have to get open and wait for him to do his magic."

Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko, one of a trio of goaltenders on the U.S. junior roster, gave a between-the-pipes perspective.

"He's obviously a threat offensively," the sophomore netminder said. "When he's on the ice, you always have to be aware, and the hair on your neck sticks up a little bit."

 Jack EichelRichard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesJack Eichel (9) loves playing with his Terriers teammates, but the lure of the NHL could make his college career a short one.

Eichel's talent and accomplishments lead to the obvious question: Will he leave BU after his freshman year? Projected to go no later than No. 2 in the 2015 NHL draft, Eichel will have the choice to remain in school or sign a pro contract.

"My advice -- and we've had many kids in that situation, whether they're sophomores or juniors -- is real simple," Parker said. "I know exactly when you should leave BU. That's when you leave here, and you're going right into the NHL.

"So the question is: Who drafts him, and how much of a possibility is there, or a probability, that he'll be an NHL payer next year?" he said. "Because if he's not going to be in the NHL, there's no sense in going to the American Hockey League. You might as well get closer to a degree. You might as well get closer to playing the NHL brand of hockey, where you're working out off the ice more and playing fewer games and practicing more. All of those things are big pluses to a kid who is still growing and still getting better."

Former Pittsburgh Penguins and Olympic coach Dan Bylsma saw plenty of young talent during his tenure in the Steel City, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. He warned that while Eichel had the skills to make the jump directly to the NHL, the league hasn't always been kind to first-year centers.

"The team that gets Jack is going to be a needy team," he said. "It's going to be a team near the bottom of the league. That's certainly going to be a situation where they're going to need an elite centerman.

"I do think he can play," Bylsma said. "But sometimes, for the development of the player, is it the best thing to go right in and play? It's a tough question. There are bumps in playing in the National Hockey League. It's going to be difficult."

Bylsma concurred that teenage hockey prodigies often meet the same fate as highly touted NFL quarterbacks: drafted by weak teams that can't offer adequate protection. Centers prosper when they're allowed to mature, much like the Patriots' Tom Brady or the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers.

"Look at [Montreal Canadiens forward] Alex Galchenyuk, who is an excellent center, but hasn't played center yet," Bylsma said. "It's the hardest position to play. I'd like to see Jack as a third-line center for a team -- not a first-line center -- when he starts."

The ideal situation for Eichel, Bylsma said, would be a team already strong at center, such as the Carolina Hurricanes, with the Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan.

Before Friday's exhibition, Bylsma admitted he hadn't seen enough of Eichel to judge whether he was NHL-ready. But after the first period, after Eichel scored his short-handed tally and almost had a second with a strong net drive, Bylsma updated his assessment.

"He's good," Bylsma said with a smile, pointing at Eichel. "That No. 9? He's good."

BC extends Addazio's contract through 2020

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
Boston College has extended coach Steve Addazio’s contract through the 2020 season, athletic director Brad Bates announced Thursday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In two years with the Eagles, Addazio has produced 14 wins and two bowl berths despite high roster turnover and the need to implement new systems on the field and off. The Eagles were just 2-10 the season before Addazio was hired in December 2012.

“In just two years, Steve Addazio has done an amazing job with our football program,” Bates said in a statement. “To lead a team to 14 wins and two consecutive bowl games during what was supposed to be a rebuilding process is a great accomplishment.”

Earlier this week, Addazio was asked about his name surfacing in rumors in regard to high-profile coaching vacancies at Florida and Michigan.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesAddazio indicated he's with BC for the long haul. "I feel very settled. I feel like I know exactly what needs to be done and I feel like I have a plan to go about doing it," he said.
“I don’t pay attention to anything [like that],” Addazio said on Tuesday. “There’s no distraction. To me it’s the nature of the business. When you have success, these things happen -- they pop up. But the reality of it is, my whole career, everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always had one belief and one belief only: Just go about your business, work really hard and give everything you have to your players, to your university. And that’s my mindset.

“I’m not one of these guys who’s ever really paid much attention to what goes on out there. Never have. Not wired like that. I guess there are people out there that do, but I really don’t. Right now, I’ve got the greatest job in the world, I’m working it and I’m excited and not interested in any conversation outside of my team and this bowl game right now. Because that’s what the most important thing is.”

The Eagles went 7-6 in Addazio’s first season, losing to Arizona in the Advocare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. Inheriting a senior-heavy roster, Addazio leaned on running back Andre Williams and the senior produced a 2,100-yard, Heisman-finalist season in 2013.

This season, the Eagles again relied heavily on the run game, with transfer Tyler Murphy breaking the ACC single-season rushing record for a quarterback. BC upset then-No. 9 USC in Week 3 and nearly upset defending national champion Florida State late in the season.

“Beyond winning, he has worked tirelessly to recruit top-notch student-athletes and develop lasting relationships with former players and the entire University community,” Bates said in his statement. “He is one of the best motivators I’ve ever been around, and his enthusiasm is infectious. We are very fortunate to have him as our coach.”

Addazio had originally signed a six-year contract at Boston College in December 2012.

Asked after Tuesday’s bowl media day if he feels like he’s in a place he could put down roots, Addazio said he did.

“I feel very settled,” Addazio said. “I feel like I know exactly what needs to be done and I feel like I have a plan to go about doing it.

“We’ve got a lot of things on the horizon for the program. So we’re moving in the right direction. It’s a work in progress, but the vision is good and the future is bright.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Perseverance pays off for BC's Bordner

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Josh Bordner just wanted to get on the field for Boston College.

After three seasons as a backup to quarterback Chase Rettig, the Sykesville, Maryland, native found himself at a career crossroads following the 2013 season.

Rettig was graduating, but with touted freshman Darius Wade and fifth-year Florida transfer Tyler Murphy coming in it seemed unlikely that Bordner (eight career pass attempts) would be the choice under center.

So, Steve Addazio asked him, would you be willing to try your hand at wideout?

The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder jumped at the chance and spent the summer and spring learning the position -- from route running to blocking -- and developing chemistry with Murphy.

Bordner was elected a captain before the season, showing how much his teammates value his leadership, work ethic and perseverance. After leading the team in catches (26), receiving yards (342) and tying for the lead in receiving TDs (three), Bordner received another honor when he was named the 2014 Scanlan Award winner at the team’s award banquet on Sunday.

“It means so much to me,” Bordner said at BC’s bowl media day on Tuesday. “It’s just an award where you don’t really understand what it means until you have people come up to you and talk to you about it.”

The list of past winners, which the senior ticked off, includes some of the biggest names in BC history: Matt Hasselbeck, Tim Hasselbeck, Mike Mayock, Bill Romanowski and Matt Ryan among them. Named after Thomas F. Scanlan -- who played for BC in 1916, ‘17 and ‘19, missing the 1918 season to serve in World War I -- the award is given to “the BC player who best exemplifies the ideals of scholar, athlete, gentlemen and friend.”

“He was the hands down, clear favorite to win that award,” fifth-year center Andy Gallik said. “When I think of the Scanlan Award, I think of Josh Bordner. There’s nobody that should have won that other than him.”

“He just embodies everything that the Scanlan Award is about,” fifth-year offensive lineman Bobby Vardaro said. “He’s a great player, great athlete, great on and off the field.”

The two offensive linemen appreciate the fact Bordner’s biggest contributions this season may have come from his blocking, of which he did quite a bit.

Gallik said that when the team watched film after wins, it seemed like four of every five plays included a good Bordner block to give Tyler Murphy or one of the backs more running room.

“It’s something that’s not really talked about and I’m actually kinda glad you asked us about this,” Gallik said of Bordner’s blocking ability. “He’s always working hard, he’s always hanging onto his block a little longer, he’s always diving at people’s legs, he’s doing whatever he can, scrapping and clawing to get his blocks done. Having him as a great blocking fullback-slash-tight end has helped us tremendously in the run game this year.”

The Eagles finished the season ranked No. 15 nationally with 251.83 yards a game on the ground.

“Everyone always said that Josh probably should have played a different position,” Vardaro said. “Linebacker was the one that everyone said, because he’s extremely athletic, he’s a big body and right now, as you can see, he’s doing really well -- catching, blocking, whatever he needs to do, he’s getting the job done.”

Asked how he’d rate Bordner’s blocking ability, Vardaro joked, “I don’t know, what’s the scale? I’d rate him pretty high.”

“The funniest thing was -- I think it was after Game 3 or 4 -- when he figured out that he could cut [block]. ... After the game he came up to us and he was like, ‘Oh, I like never knew how much fun blocking was! I can actually go and cut people.’ And you can see him on film just laying people out all over the field. He’s just a great player, great athlete and a great friend.”

And heading into his last game as an Eagle against Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Bordner hasn’t just found a way onto the field -- he’s put his name among some of the most treasured in school history. A fact not lost on the player who not long ago stood at a crossroads and wondered which way to go.

“It really humbles me,” Bordner said. “I’m extremely honored to be the recipient of this award.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
With the regular season in the books and a bowl game on the horizon, it's all about the here and now for Steve Addazio and Boston College.

The Eagles held a news conference after practice at Alumni Stadium on Tuesday to discuss the team's 2014 season, the upcoming Pinstripe Bowl against Penn State, what they’re looking forward to doing most in New York City next week and the coach’s name being mentioned in regard to other coaching openings across the country.

First down: That last point should probably be addressed first -- toward the end of a nearly 30-minute session, a reporter asked Addazio if he had any response to his name being mentioned in connection with openings elsewhere.

“No,” Addazio answered without hesitation. “I’m worried about playing this bowl game right now. My complete focus is into our football program, this bowl game and Boston College. I’m really, really thrilled -- it’s hard to wipe the smile off your face.

“These are great moments, they really are. [Being in a bowl is] what your players and what everybody works for. It’s just so darn exciting right now. I can’t wait. When we break this press conference, you got me all fired up I gotta go back in there and [game plan because] we gotta make sure we score a few points.”

After leading the Eagles to back-to-back 7-5 regular seasons and bowl berths, it’s only natural that Addazio would hear his name mentioned in connection with other programs -- some boasting high profiles -- having the kind of struggles BC had prior to his arrival (2-10 in 2013).

Though he clearly wanted to be talking about anything else, including watching the Rockettes, dining in Little Italy and touring Ground Zero -- which are all on the Eagles’ itinerary for NYC -- Addazio was pressed on whether his name cropping up in rumors could be a distraction for the team.

“I don’t pay attention to anything [like that],” he said. “There’s no distraction. To me it’s the nature of the business. When you have success, these things happen -- they pop up. But the reality of it is, my whole career, everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always had one belief and one belief only: Just go about your business, work really hard and give everything you have to your players, to your university. And that’s my mindset.

“I’m not one of these guys who’s ever really paid much attention to what goes on out there. Never have. Not wired like that. I guess there are people out there that do, but I really don’t. Right now, I’ve got the greatest job in the world, I’m working it and I’m excited and not interested in any conversation outside of my team and this bowl game right now. Because that’s what the most important thing is.”

And according to a few of the players who spoke Tuesday, it hasn’t been an issue in the locker room.

“He hasn’t mentioned anything to us,” wideout and offensive co-captain Josh Bordner said of Addazio addressing his name coming up in rumors. “I don’t see him leaving. I’m sure if he had any indication of leaving, I’m sure he would bring it up to the team. I think he’ll be here for the long run.”

Second down: Mark Holtzman, the executive director of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, was in town Tuesday for the news conference, and said demand for tickets was high.

“Once we announced these teams, Boston College and Penn State, we sold out in literally 36 hours,” he said. “And, you know, Yankee Stadium is not a small place. And that’s a tribute to both the Boston College and the Penn State fans.”

Holtzman wouldn’t talk about how many tickets have been sold or what exactly the allotments were for Boston College and Penn State, but said he expects to be “at capacity” for the game on Dec. 27 (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

“Two renowned, historical programs playing in one of the great venues in America in Yankee Stadium,” Holtzman said, “it’s going to be just a very special day.”

Third down: The Eagles are well into their 15 allotted practices -- which Addazio said is like getting another full spring session -- before the game with Penn State, but with the game still more than a week away they’re also looking forward to the game-week experiences that await them.

Bordner said he can’t wait to get to New York.

“I’ve only been there once, and it was for a couple days,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing the city.”

“I’m looking forward to visiting Ground Zero, that museum -- I heard it’s amazing,” linebacker and defensive co-captain Sean Duggan said. “That’s gonna be a pretty cool experience.”

The Eagles, of course, got one of their biggest wins of the season after the Sept. 11 anniversary this year, knocking off then-No. 9 USC in the red bandanna game honoring BC 9/11 hero Welles Crowther.

“Having that connection, meeting his parents was pretty inspirational,” Duggan said. “It’s gonna be emotional for the team.”

The Eagles will be off this weekend, free to spend time at home with their families before reconvening in Chestnut Hill on Monday night, practicing early Tuesday and then boarding buses for the four-hour drive to New York.

Out: Finally, after a bit of a hiatus during the season, the “Dude” is back. And he really wants BC fans to make it to Yankee Stadium for the game:

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Coaches vote six Eagles for All-ACC honors

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
The coaches have voted and the results are in: Boston College produced six All-ACC performers, led by center Andy Gallik on the second team.

That BC’s four-year starter at center fell on the second team rather than the first team, as he was voted by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association roughly a week before, is one of the biggest differences between the media’s results and the coaches’ results.

Miami’s Shane McDermott got the coaches’ nod as first-team center, after receiving an honorable mention from the media. Coaches can’t vote for their own players, and McDermott received 22 points to Gallik’s 21 points.

The other Eagles who earned All-ACC honors from the league’s 14 head coaches are Jonathan Hilliman (third team), Josh Keyes (third team), Bobby Vardaro (third team), Connor Wujciak (third team) and Ian Silberman (honorable mention).

BC tweeted congratulations to the players who earned All-ACC honors:

Hilliman, a freshman running back, and Wujciak, a senior defensive lineman, also received third-team honors from the ACSMA. Keyes, a senior linebacker, and Silberman and Vardaro, graduate student offensive linemen, received honorable mentions from the ACSMA.

The Eagles (7-5) will return to the practice field on Thursday to prepare for the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl against Penn State (6-6).

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard makes plays needed to beat BU

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- As Harvard's Steve Moundou-Missi stepped to the line to shoot the first of three free throws Monday night, at the other end of the court Boston University coach Joe Jones turned around and covered his face with both hands.

Freshman Will Goff, trying to contest as the shot clock wound down to one, had gotten too close to the Harvard senior. So as the big man forced up the desperation 3 to beat the buzzer, Goff was whistled for the foul.

If any one play could illustrate the difference between BU and Harvard right now, it’s that one.

“Game-winning plays, those guys make,” Jones said of the Crimson duo of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. “That’s why they’re good -- they know how to turn it up when they need to. And I knew at some point we were going to have to be able to combat that with intelligence and grit.”

Entering the second half down just one, the Terriers were in position to challenge for the win. But when plays needed to be made, the Crimson stayed poised and came through where the visitors failed, pulling away for a 70-56 win.

With the score tied at 45 midway through the second half, the shot clock winding down and John Papale in his face, Saunders had to let a 3 fly.


“I knew that shot was going in. I’m not even joking,” Jones said. “I’ve seen him make so many of those freaking shots, oh my god. I just knew it was going in, even though it was a hard shot.”

Asked about the buzzer-beating, tiebreaking 3 later, Saunders said it was a good-news, bad-news situation to be in.

“Those might be the easiest ones to take, honestly, because they're not expecting you to make it. You've got to get one off,” the senior said. “Those are kind of some situations you don’t want to be in, but you kind of do at the same time because there’s no pressure, really. I knew the shot clock was running down, I just had to get one off so I just threw it up and luckily it went in.”

Told Jones said he knew it was going in, Saunders quipped, “I don't know how he knew that, because …” he said, laughing.

“I knew it was good when it came out of my hand,” he said. “It felt good when I shot it.”

Needing a bucket to stem the Crimson tide at 50-47, BU's Cedric Hankerson threw the ball away to Andre Chatfield, and on the break Chatfield fed Saunders, who was fouled at the rim and sank both freebies.

The free throws started a 7-0 run for Harvard, the hosts running out to the game’s first double-digit lead at 57-47 and never getting threatened again.

Both teams had shooting issues. BU struggled at the free throw line, hitting just 55 percent of its attempts (11-for-20). Harvard, meanwhile, struggled badly from 3-point land, hitting just two of its first 10 attempts and finishing at 30.4 percent on 3s and just 39.2 percent overall.

“I thought we settled for some shots, and we didn't finish around the rim,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “When we did get the ball inside, we weren’t as efficient as we need to be with all our guys in the paint.

“I thought that allowed us to have the shooting percentages that you see. It wasn’t very good.”

And while the shooting numbers started poorly and ended even worse, the Crimson got better at working inside against the BU zone in the second half and made hay at the free throw line (23-for-25 in the game, 16-for-17 in the second half).

“We made a few plays in the second half. I thought that we showed a lot of composure and we didn’t settle and we made the extra pass,” Amaker said. “When we can finish those kinds of moments, it gives us confidence to continue to do it that way when we don’t settle.”

It helps when you have defenders who can shut down the opposition’s best player.

Hankerson came in leading BU in scoring at 19.9 points per game, but Saunders locked him down Monday night. Harried by the Harvard star, Hankerson finished with just three points (0-for-6 shooting) and four personal fouls.

The sophomore got to the foul line nine times, but had six of BU's nine misses there.

And though the Crimson got the win and improved to 7-1 on the young season, Chambers said he’s “definitely” concerned that Harvard is falling into a habit of slow starts.

“We don’t want to have to come out every second half and have to play at that pace in the second half,” the point guard said. “Coach always talks about putting a whole game together, putting two halves together, and we haven’t been able to do that recently.”

Don’t tell that to Jones, who saw the Crimson do more than enough to beat his rebuilding Terriers.

“They make plays when they need to make plays,” Jones said. “I’ve got nothing but respect for [Amaker’s] players and his program.”

And outside of a close loss to Holy Cross in Game 2, the Crimson have made enough plays to win each and every game so far.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

BC's Gallik finalist for Rimington Trophy

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
Boston College fans were watching one of the best in the business when they turned on the Eagles on Saturdays this fall.

If they were watching the offensive line, that is, as center Andy Gallik on Monday was named one of six finalists for the 2014 Rimington Trophy.

The 6-foot-3, 304-pound Gallik is a four-year starter who this season helped the Eagles finish No. 15 nationally in rushing offense at 251.83 yards per game.

Boston College congratulated the Evergreen Park, Illinois, native on Twitter:

Gallik has already been named to the ASCMA All-ACC first team, and has accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Alabama.

The Rimington Trophy goes to the consensus All-American center pick from three existing All-America teams, by the Walter Camp Foundation, the Sporting News and the Football Writers Association of America.

Auburn’s Reese Dismukes, Georgia’s David Andrews, Kansas State’s B.J. Finney, Michigan State’s Jack Allen and Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu are the other Rimington finalists.

The winner will be announced live during the ESPNU “Red Carpet Special at The Home Depot College Football Awards” on Dec. 11, immediately preceding the ESPN “Home Depot College Football Awards” show.

Former Florida State center and current New England Patriots offensive lineman Bryan Stork won the Rimington in 2013.

Gallik and the Eagles will play Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27 at Yankee Stadium.

“Everyone is excited to go to Yankee Stadium and play a team that I grew up watching,” Gallik told reporters after the bowl announcement on Sunday, according to a transcript. “I grew up in Big Ten territory [outside Chicago] so I grew up watching Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, all those teams. I am very familiar with that team. It will be really cool to step onto the field with Penn State.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Tufts wins Division 3 men's soccer title

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
Tufts University won the first national championship in school history, claiming the Division 3 men's soccer title with a 4-2 victory over Wheaton (Ill.) college Saturday night in Kansas City, Missouri.

Nathan Majumder's second goal of the game, with just under nine minutes left, was the difference.

“It’s amazing. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m not sure how we got here after losing in the first round of our conference tournament and we weren’t even sure we’d get in this tournament,” Majumder said after the game, according to NCAA.com. “It’s been a magical run after that.”

Peter Kramer and Gus Santos also scored for the Jumbos (16-2-4).

During the latter part of their NCAA tournament run, the Jumbos, who were in their fourth NCAA tournament in school history, became giant slayers beating Messiah College, Ohio Wesleyan University and Wheaton, which have a combined 97 NCAA tournament appearances and 14 national championships among them.

Eagles beat Friars, lay groundwork for new identity under coach Jim Christian

December, 6, 2014
Dec 6
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- For a Boston College team still looking to form an identity under new coach Jim Christian, Friday night's 69-60 win over Providence College was perhaps the Eagles' strongest step in that direction.

After a tight first half featuring seven lead changes, the Eagles knew they had to step up in the second half in order to top the Friars, who ranked in the top 25 of the coaches' poll as recently as last week. And by doing so, the Eagles ended up with the type of performance Christian felt they were desperate for.

[+] EnlargeAaron Brown, Olivier Hanlan
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsAaron Brown and Olivier Hanlan celebrate a basket in BC's 69-60 win over Providence.
"We needed a game where somebody made a run back at us and we made another run back, and I think that's what we did," Christian said. "Today we put it together, and we played both halves the right way."

The buzz phrase during the team's postgame news conference was "identity plays," a reference to the message Christian is trying to instill in his players. It's not the flashy plays, but instead the gritty ones, that lead to a victory. Even though he's new to the program, Christian said the players have bought in since day one.

In fact, they were the ones who brought it up after the game.

"Like Coach says, he has his 'identity plays,'" graduate forward Aaron Brown said. "I'm sure we had a million of those tonight, probably the most out of any game. He said that was what was going to win the game, and he was right. Those plays, the identity plays -- paying attention to detail and taking the game plan to the T."

Of those "million" identity plays, the defining one came in the second half. With the Eagles finally starting to distance themselves from the Friars on the scoreboard, BC sophomore forward Will Magarity dove on the floor to rope in an offensive rebound and had the wherewithal to quickly call timeout in order to retain possession after a Friars defender rushed over in an attempt to take the ball away. After the whistle was blown, Magarity's teammates ran over to help him up, cheering enthusiastically to show their appreciation for his effort.

"That was a good game-changer in terms of just the second half," junior guard Olivier Hanlan said. "Whenever somebody makes a play like that it just sparks up the whole team. The whole bench was jumping up. It kind of gave us that extra boost to just get back in and get a stop and score and just continue fighting."

Having pulled Magarity aside before the game to tell him he needed to step up, Christian was particularly high on the sophomore's play. In the coach's eyes, it wasn't the game-changing dive that sparked the team, though. It was the moment afterward, when his players all came together to pick up their teammate and recognize that Magarity had made the right play.

It was a sign that his system is working.

"They appreciate the identity plays," Christian said. "They're learning now how important those plays are. It's not just diving on the floor. It can help change the outcome of the game. So I think, to me, that was unbelievably special because to watch the guys, some of whom didn't even get in the game, run out there -- that means they all get it. And that's what made me feel good."

Having started off the season playing a tough stretch of teams -- several of which the coach described as having their eyes set on a spot in the NCAA tournament -- the Eagles are now 4-3 after winning their past two. With four games to go on their current six-game homestand before taking off to play Duke, Christian hopes his team continues to adapt to his new system and thrive under it.

While the results remain to be determined, Friday night's win at least provided the team with a glimpse of what is possible, and Christian hopes that will be enough to inspire his team moving forward.

"We needed to gain momentum," Christian said. "We needed to have a game like this where we had to grind out a win and just keep getting better, and that's really what's happened."

Loss to Harvard a learning opportunity for Huskies

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
Bill Coen stays pretty even-keeled, whatever the result on the court may be.

Which is not to say he shows no emotion, or does no yelling when his team’s not doing exactly what he wants it to on the court.

He did plenty of both during Northeastern’s 60-46 loss at Harvard on Wednesday night, exhorting his Huskies to attack on offense and stay stout on defense against the deep Crimson.

But he knew going into the game that, despite preseason predictions of a Colonial Athletic Association title in 2014-15, his team was an underdog against Harvard -- an AP Top 25 team in preseason.

“They have a tremendous program, and I have the utmost respect for the way they play the game and how tough they are,” Coen said of Harvard. “I thought tonight they kinda wore us down with their numbers. We made a few runs at them, but I thought their defensive pressure was the difference in the game.”

Northeastern, coming off the first five-win November in school history, laid its second egg of the season Wednesday night. The Huskies were never really in their game against UMass in Amherst the day before Thanksgiving, losing 79-54.

And they were never really in this one, either.

The Huskies, facing inspired man-to-man defense from the Crimson, missed their first five shots and fell behind 8-0, 10-2 and 16-4. Toward the end of the first half, the visitors got going a bit behind big man Scott Eatherton (16 points) and power forward Zach Stahl (7 points).

When T.J. Williams splashed a 3-pointer early in the second half, the Crimson lead was down to just two and Coen thought his charges had a chance to make one.

But the Huskies “crumbled” under the Crimson pressure, Coen said, and Wesley Saunders exploded for 12 second-half points after being held scoreless in the first half as Harvard pulled away.

“They’re an experienced club,” Coen said. “They’re a team that’s been to the NCAA tournament and knows what it takes. I thought it was a great challenge for us. ... I thought there were segments during the game where we played at that level. And for us, it’s just to be able to extend those short pockets of that to a full, 40-minute game.

“That’s our goal, to continue to improve and learn about ourselves. I thought it was a great learning experience tonight.”

One thing the Huskies need to learn is how to adapt when teams try to take specific players out of the equation, as Harvard did with David Walker (1-for-3) and Quincy Ford (0-for-9) on Wednesday.

Walker came into the game averaging 13.3 points a game and shooting 50 percent from the field, and Harvard coach Tommy Amaker praised wings Agunwa Okolie and Wesley Saunders for limiting him to just three points in the matchup.

“He always preaches defense,” Saunders said of Amaker. “That’s kind of our calling card, because when shots aren’t falling you can always rely on your defense. It was definitely a key tonight to stop the shooters, and so I think we did a pretty good job of that.”

The tough night for Walker and Ford put more pressure on Eatherton in the post, and when foul trouble limited his minutes in the second half the Huskies struggled.

“We count on David to score the ball for us. We count on him to do so much,” Coen said. “I thought they did a terrific job of really kind of keying on him, not giving him any looks. They denied him pretty much baseline to baseline.

“David’s gotta grow from this experience, be able to get himself to the foul line and get himself more involved in the game offensively.”

When your only two losses to date are to NCAA tournament teams from the previous season, as is the case with Northeastern, chances are you’re doing OK. But that doesn’t mean the loss didn’t sting the Huskies.

“I think they were disappointed because they wanted to win the game,” Coen said of his players, “but they realize that's a Top 25 team and we're still trying to get there.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard earns ugly win over Northeastern

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- It’s an old bromide, but a true one:

Ugly wins count just the same in the win-loss column as pretty ones do.

There was little pretty about Harvard’s 60-46 victory over crosstown rival Northeastern on Wednesday night.

Sure, Agunwa Okolie made a few athletic plays -- picking off a pass, outrunning two Huskies defenders and finishing with an authoritative flush -- and Kenyatta Smith and Steve Moundou-Missi had a few crowd-pleasing shot swats.

And, yes, the Crimson did sprint out to quick 8-0, 10-2 and 16-4 leads against the Huskies.

But for long periods in the first half the Crimson offense fell “stagnant,” according to coach Tommy Amaker, like the 8-minute, 20-second stretch to end the half during which Harvard made only one field goal and three free throws.

“I don’t really know,” Siyani Chambers said about the poor flow. “We really work on one offense, our motion offense, a lot during practice so we’ve just gotta make sure we stick to the basics and keep moving -- the ball and players -- and we’ll get easy shots.”

On the day he was named to the Naismith Award watch list, Wesley Saunders was held scoreless in a half for the first time since his freshman year.

That was by design, as the Huskies keyed on Harvard’s star throughout the game.

“I think you have to,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said of focusing on Saunders. “They have so many other weapons, but certainly he’s a player-of-the-year candidate each and every year. He’s got so many ways to beat you, between scoring the ball and assisting, particularly in late-game and late-clock situations.”

Saunders came in averaging 21.8 points a game, but finished the first 20 minutes shooting 0-for-3 for the goose egg.

“We mentioned to Wesley that he had to stay disciplined and help us in other ways,” Amaker said. “We can’t expect him to be Superman every game or every night, to put us on his back and carry us with an offensive explosion. Things will find [their] way to him.”

And in the second half, Saunders asserted himself. After Northeastern chipped the Harvard lead down to two via a T.J. Williams 3, Saunders drove the lane, drew contact and swished two free throws, then ran the floor in transition, got the ball on the wing and attacked quickly for a layup.

He got involved on the other end as well. When Scott Eatherton got in trouble in the lane, Saunders jumped his outlet pass and took the Crimson the other way. Moundou-Missi had slipped out in front, Saunders hit him under the basket for the easy layup and the Crimson were off and running.

Amaker said to give the Huskies a good deal of credit for holding the Crimson star down early, and to give Saunders credit for not letting it get to him.

“The highs and the lows aren’t drastic with him, which is a tremendous quality to have for someone of his talent and his ability,” Amaker said. “So he takes it in stride. He analyzes things.”

True to his coach’s word, Saunders shrugged off his quiet first half when asked after the Crimson’s victory.

“We still had the lead, so I wasn’t worried too much,” Saunders said. “I know we could’ve played a lot better the first half as a team. I know I individually could’ve played a lot better the first half, but I just knew that’s why they play two halves.”

The Crimson shot 52.2 percent for the game, while holding the Huskies to just 33.3 percent -- Saunders and Okolie combining to hold Quincy Ford (0-for-9) and David Walker (1-for-3) to just three combined points on the night.

And though he didn’t score in the first half, Saunders had 12 in the second to lead the Crimson for the fifth consecutive game -- the first Harvard player to accomplish that since Jeremy Lin in 2009-10.

“I think the first half, we were all stagnant kinda,” Saunders said. “I think that starts with me. In the second half, I came out and I was sprinting the lanes, Siyani was pushing it as usual and I think we got more of a flow. And I think that was the difference.”

It might not have been pretty throughout, but after improving to 5-1 for the fourth time in the past six seasons, the Crimson will certainly take it.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Six Minutemen named to All-MAC teams

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
After a three-win season that represented a two-win improvement on the team’s win total from each of its first two seasons at the FBS level, six UMass Minutemen landed on All-Mid-American Conference teams on Wednesday.

Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, tight end Jean Sifrin and linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox were named to the All-MAC first team, while cornerback Randall Jette was named to the second team and linebacker Stanley Andre was named to the third team. The MAC awards are voted on by the league’s coaches.

The six all-conference honors set a new UMass record, after the Minutemen landed three players on the teams in 2012 and just one in 2013.

Mark Whipple’s Minutemen started the season 0-6 before winning three of their next four games and finishing the season 3-3 in the final six games and 3-9 overall. Five of the team’s nine losses came by seven or fewer points.

Frohnapfel, a senior transfer from Marshall, led the MAC in passing yards (3,345) and passing yards per game (334.5), and finished second in passing TDs (23) and yards per completion (13.88) despite missing the final two games due to injury.

A 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior, Sharpe led the MAC in receptions (85) and receiving yards (1,281), ranked fifth nationally in receiving yards, eighth in receiving yards per game (106.8) and 12th in receptions per game (7.1). He had four 100-yard games, two 13-catch games (tying the school record) and scored seven TDs.

Though he didn’t become eligible until Week 2, Sifrin made a big impact this season. The 6-7, 250-pounder finished with 41 catches for 637 yards and six TDs.

Santos-Knox finished third nationally with 143 tackles, recording double-digit tackles in eight of 12 games and piling up a career-high 19 at Akron. He led the Minutemen with 8.5 tackles for a loss, had two sacks, three forced fumbles and six pass break-ups.

Jette set a UMass single-season record with 18 pass break-ups, which was good for third in the MAC and fifth nationally. The junior led UMass with four interceptions and added 67 tackles.

Andre was second on the Minutemen with 128 tackles, ranked 11th nationally with 10.7 tackles per game and had five games with 10 or more tackles.

Of the six players honored, only Andre won’t be eligible to return to play for UMass in 2015.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.