NCF Nation: Steele Divitto

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Previewing the 2014 season for the Boston College Eagles:

Key returners: RB Myles Willis, WR Josh Bordner, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, RG Harris Williams, DT Mehdi Abdesmad, LB Steven Daniels, LB Josh Keyes, CB Manuel Asprilla, CB Bryce Jones, S Dominique Williams

Key losses: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, WR Alex Amidon, LT Matt Patchan, RT Ian White, DE Kasim Edebali, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, K/P Nate Freese

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 5 vs. Pitt, Sept. 13 vs. USC, Nov. 1 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 22 at Florida State, Nov. 29 vs. Syracuse

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSecond-year Boston College coach Steve Addazio is looking to build on a seven-win season in 2013.
Projected win percentage: 37.9 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 5 wins

Instant impact newcomer: Florida transfer Tyler Murphy is the front-runner to start at quarterback, having been recruited to Gainesville back when Eagles coach Steve Addazio was an assistant there. Murphy started six games last year for the Gators, completing 60.5 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five interceptions, adding 61 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

High point from 2013: Pick any Andre Williams highlight and you'll find it easy to understand how the previously unsung running back bullied his way to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Williams rushed for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting. His 166 yards and two touchdowns in a Nov. 2 upset of Virginia Tech sparked a four-game winning streak for BC, helping the Eagles get to a bowl in Year 1 under Addazio.

Low point from 2013: A two-game slide to finish the season at 7-6 diminished some of the glow that had come from such a surprising run during BC's four-game winning streak earlier. The Eagles lost Williams in the regular-season finale at rival Syracuse, and lost the game 34-31 on a touchdown pass with six seconds left. Then Arizona routed BC 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Murphy proves to be an efficient dual-threat quarterback, adding a dynamic to BC's offense that wasn't there last year. Willis leads a running back committee that, running behind a veteran line, is able to collectively make up for much of the production that went out the door when Williams left. A strong secondary offsets a mostly untested defensive front, and BC continues its ascent under Addazio, winning eight games and pulling several more upsets along the way.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offense struggles to find its identity without the machine-like Williams pushing it forward. Murphy and a green receiving corps have trouble meshing, the defense lacks punch up front and the Eagles fall back to a three- or four-win season, which is what many thought would happen last season.

They said it: "Really, the interest level now is about winning those games. It's really not about being close; that's not really what we're striving for here. Year 1 was about winning the opener, it was about getting bowl eligible. Now I think as the program moves on in Year 2, you want to get to Charlotte, and that's the next goal on the program's docket right now, is to get to Charlotte." -- Addazio, on BC's respectable 48-34 loss last season to eventual national champion Florida State
Frank Spaziani knows he probably is not getting 190-plus tackles from any of his linebackers this season. The Boston College coach is OK with that.

So, too, are the linebackers who will fill the void left by Luke Kuechly, the ACC's single-season (191) and career tackles (532) leader who left early for the NFL draft.

"If you talk to Luke, he'll be the first to say that we're a defense first, not just one guy," Sean Duggan said. "Losing a guy like him is a lot of tackles to make up, but we'll all chip in as a defense to get it done. Evenly as a unit we have to step up."

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIThe Eagles have a large void to fill following the departure of Luke Kuechly, who won the Nagurski and Butkus awards last season.
Kuechly will likely be the first linebacker to hear his name called in New York in less than three weeks. But the Eagles' linebackers are hardly fretting over Kuechly's departure, not after the promise they showed in winning two of their final three games to end an otherwise unfulfilling 2011 season.

The lone loss during that stretch was a two-point squeaker at heavily favored rival Notre Dame.

"I was on a team where losing was unacceptable," said linebacker Steele Divitto, who played for national power Don Bosco (Ramsey, N.J.). "That's the same mindset we're starting to apply here. It's not good enough to just do your job -- you have to go that extra mile. All my life I haven't really lost many football games, maybe two or three prior to BC. I hate to lose, and I think there are a lot of guys that hate losing and will do whatever it takes this offseason and in the season to win all these games.

"It's almost a mentality thing. I played for a great coach in high school and play for a great coach now. Coach Spaz talks about winning all the time: in the weight room, in conditioning, in the film room. We have to apply that mentality to everything."

Divitto is looking to build off a 72-tackle campaign from last season, when he was third on the team. (He added 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception as well.) In place of a bowl trip for last season's 4-8 squad, Divitto flew to Phoenix, where he worked out and studied with draft prospects at Athletes' Performance.

In the shadow of Kuechly last season on the outside, Divitto is now among the most experienced linebackers returning, along with fellow junior Kevin Pierre-Louis, who was hobbled much of the spring but had 74 tackles, six tackles for loss and a fumble recovery last season.

A possible replacement to Kuechly in the middle could be Duggan, who started three games outside last season as a true freshman, recording 39 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery.

"Steele, he's gonna get better. He has a lot of experience now out there, played a lot of football he's going to have to up his production to make up for obviously Luke not being there," Spaziani said. "And Sean, he played a lot in a backup role, started a couple games for us. Now it's a new position for him in the middle, but he's a good football player. And he just needs reps and he needs more time, but we're happy to have him on the football team."

Duggan actually played briefly with Kuechly, the Nagurski and Butkus winner from a year ago, at St. Xavier (Cincinnati) High School.

"When I talked to Luke he said you've just got to relax out there and trust yourself," Duggan said of his conversations with Kuechly this spring. "You can't think too much out there because then you're slow, and at this level you can't afford to be slow against these guys. So trust yourself and the guys around you."
Boston College linebacker Steele Divitto is a meticulous note-taker. The kind of guy you want to sit next to in class.

Boston College missed out on a bowl game in 2011, but Divitto took a trip of his own to continue learning. Thanks to his dad, Divitto flew to Athletes' Performance in Phoenix, Ariz., for two weeks of additional training.

“After my sessions, I’d take out my notebook and I’d jot down everything I learned, whether it was technique-wise, or eating habits, whatever it was,” Divitto said. “I figured if I was going out there, I really should try to get the most out of everything.”

[+] EnlargeSteele Divitto
Bob DeChiara/US PresswireBoston College is looking forward to big things from Steele Divitto in 2012.
In turn, Boston College should be getting the most out of Divitto this offseason.

One of the biggest questions Boston College has entering spring practices on Saturday is what the linebackers will look like without All-American Luke Kuechly, who left early for the NFL draft. (“It looks like Superman is back in his suit and Clark Kent is there now,” coach Frank Spaziani quipped. “That’s what it looks like. The cape is gone and we’ve got the guy in the suit with the glasses.”)

As BC fans know, though, the blue-collar working player can get it done, too, and that’s just the kind of player Divitto is. Sean Duggan and Nick Lifka will both be competing for Kuechly’s old position in the middle, but Divitto is versatile enough to play there, too. When former linebacker Mark Herzlich left, Divitto won the starting job at strongside linebacker, but he played in the shadow of Kuechly. Now he’s looking to establish himself as the team’s next leading linebacker.

Divitto spent his mornings in Arizona working on speed training and the evenings were for lifting. He was given a nutrition plan and had the opportunity to measure himself against some of college football’s top performers, as several NFL draft prospects were also there.

“Steele is exceptional about putting the extra effort in,” Spaziani said. “He’s taken ownership of his own future, which is something we all need to do, and he’s done a great job with it. He went out to train for a week, did it all on his own, out there by himself. He’s just highly motivated and has taken complete ownership of his future and he’s a team player. We’re excited to see his development. We’ll see this spring how far he’s advanced.”

Divitto was good to begin with. He finished third on the team in tackles last season with 72, and had 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and five pass breakups. The trip to Arizona isn’t the first time he’s taken the initiative to get better. Last year he boxed during the offseason, and now he’s into Muay Thai, which is similar to kickboxing.

Divitto said it’s not about him; it’s about being the best player he can be for his teammates.

“I always believed that how hard you work throughout the offseason -- everything you do -- how you sleep how you eat, how you breathe, every rep you take in the weight room, every rep you take outside, all of that adds up to how you’re going to perform next season,” Divitto said. “I’ve lived my life just going off that hard work means everything. When you play a game, I feel like the outcome is already determined depending upon how much effort you put into it prior.”

If that’s the case, BC already has a winner.
You are going to argue about this. How do I know? Because I'm still arguing with myself over it ...

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
Michael Tureski/Icon SMILuke Kuechly leads a deep group of Boston College linebackers.
1. Boston College: Luke Kuechly is one of the best in the country, but he’s not alone. The Eagles also have Kevin Pierre-Louis, who ranked second nationally among all freshmen in tackles per game last season with 7.15 -- ninth in the ACC. It won’t be easy to replace Mark Herzlich, on or off the field, but Steele Divitto played in 11 games last season, and Nick Clancy and Will Thompson both saw time on the second team.

2. Florida State: The Noles had to replace two starters, including Kendall Smith, the team’s second-leading tackler, last season, and Mister Alexander, but the upcoming talent could be even better. Nigel Bradham led the team with 98 tackles and five pass breakups last season, and Christian Jones, Jeff Luc, Telvin Smith and Vince Williams will also be competing for playing time.

3. Miami: Sean Spence, who has 30 career starts, should be one of the best in the country, and Ramon Buchanon, another senior, also returns. The Canes have five other linebackers with experience in Kelvin Cain, who started seven games, Jordan Futch, who had a great spring and will see the field, Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green and C.J. Holton.

4. North Carolina: Kevin Reddick, who led the Tar Heels with 74 tackles last season, returns for his third season as starter. Zach Brown is also a returning starter with game-changing capabilities, and there is plenty of depth with Dion Guy, Darius Lipford, Ebele Okakpu and Herman Davidson. Junior college transfer Fabby Desir could also have an impact.

5. NC State: Audie Cole and Terrell Manning have combined for 39 career starts, and Cole fared well this spring moving to the middle to replace Nate Irving. With the return of Sterling Lucas, Dwayne Maddox and Colby Jackson, there is plenty of experience, but not quite as much depth as some other programs.

6. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return both starters in Steven Sylvester and Julian Burnett. There is no shortage of depth with Jeremy Attaochu, Quayshawn Nealey, Brandon Watts, Albert Rocker, Malcolm Munroe and Daniel Drummond.

7. Clemson: This group has a lot of potential, especially if true freshmen Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony make an immediate impact. There’s no question they’ll be given a chance, but the Tigers already have a good group with Corico Hawkins, Quandon Christian and Jonathan Willard.

8. Virginia Tech: It seems like this rotation has been in flux for a while now. The Hokies’ leading tackler returns in Bruce Taylor, Barquell Rivers had 96 tackles as a starter in 2009 but was injured last season, and there are several young players adding to the competition. Chase Williams, Tariq Edwards, Telvion Clark and Jack Tyler are only a few. Whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow will have to earn his spot back over Alonzo Tweedy, Dominique Patterson and Nick Dew.

9. Maryland: The Terps were hit hard here with the losses of Alex Wujciak (381 career tackles) and Adrian Moten (14.5 career sacks). Demetrius Hartsfield returns with 20 career starts, and there are four lettermen returning including Darin Drakeford, Isaiah Ross, David Mackall and Bradley Johnson.

10. Wake Forest: Kyle Wilber’s move to outside linebacker will give this position a boost, as he led the Deacs with 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks last season. His backup is Gelo Orange (22 tackles). The Deacs also have Tristan Dorty, Joey Ehrmann, Mike Olsen, Scott Betros, Riley Haynes and Justin Jackson.

11. Virginia: Starters LaRoy Reynolds and Ausar Walcott both return, but neither has started more than 11 career games. Junior Steve Greer has prior starting experience but played mainly as a reserve last season. Adam Taliaferro, Conner McCartin, Tucker Windle and LoVante Battle are also in the mix for playing time.

12. Duke: Kelby Brown is the lone returning starter, but he’s a promising young player who led the nation last season as a freshman in fumbles recovered. He missed spring ball while recovering from a knee injury, but is expected to start with Tyree Glover or Kevin Rojas.

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