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Tuesday, July 26, 2011
BC's Harris, Kuechly put team first

By Jack McCluskey



The ACC held its annual football kickoff media days in Pinehurst, N.C., on Sunday and Monday, with the head coach and two players from each team in attendance to talk about the upcoming season.

For Boston College, the contingent consisted of Frank Spaziani, Montel Harris and Luke Kuechly. The takeaway, from a BC perspective? Team goals come first, followed closely by team goals and with team goals bringing up the rear.

Which is not to say that Harris (who is 126 yards from becoming BC’s all-time leading rusher and 1,002 yards from becoming the ACC’s all-time leading rusher) and Kuechly (who is on pace to shatter BC's all-time record for tackles) weren’t asked about individual goals. It’s just that they didn’t seem interested in talking about them, at least not without putting the team first.

Harris, who was voted the ACC Preseason Player of the Year by media in attendance, stepped to the podium first for the Eagles, and was asked almost immediately about the possible records.

“It’s important for me to reach those milestones, but most importantly it’s important for our team to win games,” the senior told reporters and viewers watching a live stream on theacc.com. “So if I’m able to break the records and our team can win games, everything’s great.”

When Kuechly, who finished third in the voting Harris won, was asked about all the attention he gets because of the tackles he piles up, the middle linebacker passed the praise on.

“Obviously it’s something that’s cool to talk about, but you've got to realize that you don’t get this attention without other guys on your team,” he said. “I always give shoutouts to guys on my defensive line.”

But does Kuechly take pride in leading the nation in tackles?

“You’ve got to be proud of what you do, you’ve got to be proud of what you accomplish,” he said. “But you can’t take pride of something you do in a team game, individually. You can’t take pride in, you know, ‘I did that by myself.’ Because you didn’t do it yourself, you did it with the help of other guys on your team.

“I don’t really have any individual goals, per se, I have team goals,” Kuechly said. “I think we want to get to the ACC championship game. ... That’s where we want to be, that’s what our goal is.”

For a team that went just 7-6 (4-4 in the ACC) last season, that may seem a lofty goal. And though one media member picked the Eagles to win the ACC title (beating Virginia Tech), the team received just two votes to win the Atlantic Division and was predicted to finish fourth.

While the Eagles graduated team leaders like Anthony Castonzo and Mark Herzlich, Spaziani returns 16 starters for his third season as head coach and believes the team should take a step forward.

“We have tremendous potential, I think. We’re moving forward in a lot of ways,” Spaziani said.

Spaziani cited Chase Rettig’s return at quarterback, Harris’ return at running back and the expected growth of a young receiving corps as reasons the Eagles should be better in 2011.

“We feel we’re moving in the right direction on offense,” he said.

Improvement on offense is a must for the Eagles, who led the nation in defense against the run last season but struggled to move the ball consistently and to put points on the board.

BC has played in a bowl game for 12 straight seasons, the fifth-longest active streak in the country, and the importance of maintaining that streak isn’t lost on the likes of Harris and Kuechly.

So while Kuechly will continue to receive his fair share of plaudits for plowing into ball carriers with abandon, he’ll also continue to say he’d trade the numbers next to his name on the score sheet for team success any day.

“I play the game to win,” Kuechly said, “I don’t play the game to set records, I don’t play the game for accolades, I play to win. I play for the team. I play to win every game; if you’re competitive, that’s why you play the game.”

If the rest of the Eagles follow Kuechly’s example, they should at least be competitive in every game, and they might just have a shot to reach those lofty team goals.