Boston College has replaced one tackling machine with another.
First-year starter Nick Clancy has done an admirable job replacing All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly in the heart of the Eagles' defense, leading the nation with 43 total tackles after a whopping 24-tackle day against Northwestern last week.
Through three games, Clancy is averaging 14.3 tackles per game. His predecessor averaged 15.2 tackles per game, leading the nation last season.
“Nick has been a pleasant surprise,” Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. “Nick came back as a fifth-year senior with no guarantee, he was looking at backing up and being a contributor. … The fact that he wanted to come back and be a part of the team says a lot.”
Once Kuechly left Boston College, Clancy saw an opportunity. A backup outside linebacker throughout his career, Clancy made the switch to the middle in the hopes he could win the starting job. Clancy felt playing in the middle would better suit his strengths, particularly being able to run sideline to sideline to make plays.
He immediately started watching film, studying the playbook and talking to Kuechly for advice.
“He was the first person I sought out,” Clancy said in a phone interview this week. “We’ve had a lot of good 'Mike' linebackers here at Boston College, but none better than Luke Kuechly. I went back into the archives, watched old film of the way he played the game. Being good friends with Luke, I knew how well he prepared each week. Even though I’m older than him, I had a lot to learn by the way he prepared for the game each week. I tried to emulate him in that aspect of being a student of the game and not just a player, so that’s definitely something I picked up from him.”
Going into the season, Clancy’s career-high for tackles was seven, set against Wake Forest in 2009. But he has re-set that mark in each game this season. In the opener against Miami, Clancy had eight tackles. Then against Maine, he had 11.
Headed into Northwestern last week, Clancy had a feeling he could have a good game. He was traveling back to Illinois, close to his childhood home, and had plenty of friends and family in the stands. But he never thought he would end up having one of the biggest days in school history.
Clancy had 14 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles, marking the second-most tackles in one game in school history, and the highest single-game tackle total since Frank Chamberlain matched the school record with a 25-tackle performance against Syracuse in 1999. He was honored as one of the ACC Players of the Week for his efforts.
“You don’t really think about, ‘OK, I’ve got all these tackles right now' because you’re so focused on what’s going on,” Clancy said. “It was just one of those things. I started running around, and next thing I know I was racking up tackles.
So when did he find out about his game?
“I think after the game my dad may have mentioned, ‘You may have had over 20 tackles,’” he said. “I didn’t believe him at first. I didn’t think it was a number that high until the next day when the box score came out and people were texting me and calling me. I had no idea. You’re so focused in the moment and the game when you’re on the field, you recognize you’re in on some plays, but you don’t necessarily think in your head this is No. 15, 16.”
Though Clancy had a big game, the Eagles' defense struggled to get Northwestern off the field. The Wildcats ran 100 plays in the game, giving Clancy more of an opportunity to make some tackles. But you have to marvel at the effort to get 24 tackles, when you consider Clancy was on the field for 98 of those plays.
“I was so fired up to play that game, it was pure adrenaline running through my veins,” he said. “I didn’t want to get off the field.”
Boston College clearly does not want him off the field, either.