As Zay Flowers pondered his future this offseason, he found himself at a crossroads.
He could take a bet and declare himself for the NFL draft; transfer and earn thousands of dollars in a name-image likeness deal; or play the long game and return to Boston College for one last season of football.
Flowers, an all-ACC electric receiver who has 13 siblings, decided he wanted to become the first person in his family to graduate from college.
He also felt that he, quarterback Phil Jurkovec and the rest of the Eagles had more to accomplish. So he remained patient and stayed put.
BC was picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference in the preseason poll, but don’t tell Flowers that. When asked on the first day of training camp on Friday what would make this season a success, he didn’t hesitate.
“Winning the division,” he said. “Come out on the good side.”
Coach Jeff Hafley’s first two seasons were characterized by ups and downs – a palpable buzz followed by an all-too-familiar disappointment. The Eagles finished 6-5 in 2020 but were advised nationally for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last season they won four in a row, lost four in a row, won two in a row, then lost two in a row. for a monotonous 6-6 recording.
BC, seeking its first eight-win season since 2009, is stuck in neutral. The Eagles are 56-56 since 2013 and are looking for their first win against a ranked team since 2014.
There is a collective sense of optimism this year, however, and it was clear right away that Flowers & Co. had “unfinished business” on their minds.
“It’s only day one, but you can definitely feel it,” said Everett graduate student and defensive back Jason Maitre. “We have a different edge on us. We definitely needed it. I think we underperformed. We can do great things.
The Eagles wasted no time Friday at Fish Field House. With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, players, coaches and staff were already flying around the pitch before training began at 8.30am.
The Jurkovec-to-Flowers connection was alive and well in positional drills, and the team’s overall speed was on display.
Hafley credits strength and conditioning coach Phil Matusz and his team with preparing players in the spring and summer. Boot camp isn’t about running hills and conditioning anymore, Hafley said; now the focus is on keeping players fit while allocating more time to football itself.
“As we go through camp, we have to quickly figure out what we’re doing really well,” Hafley said.
Many familiar faces are back on the attacking side of the ball.
A year ago, the Eagles finished last in the ACC in yards per game, 12th in points, 12th in passing yards and ninth in rushing yards, but Jurkovec has missed more than half the season due to from a hand injury he suffered in Week 2 against UMass. . Even when he came back for the last four games, he struggled to get hold of the ball and never found the rhythm.
Flowers, Jaelen Gill and Jaden Williams are catalysts at wide receiver, Notre Dame transfer George Takacs, Joey Luchetti and Spencer Witter form a reliable tight end unit, and running backs Pat Garwo, Alec Sinkfield and Xavier Coleman constitute one of the deepest groups of the ACC.
The offensive line is perhaps the most important X-factor. Highly regarded but relatively inexperienced players such as Jack Conley, Finn Dirstine, Drew Kendall and Ozzy Trapilo will help fill the void after the Eagles lost Zion Johnson, Alec Lindstrom, Ben Petrula and Tyler Vrabel to the NFL, as well that star guard Christian Acajou has a season-ending ACL injury.
With new coordinator John McNulty calling the plays, expect to see an offense that resembles last year’s in some ways, but has its own wrinkles.
“I think it’s a perfect match,” Gill said. “We get the ball fast guys in the open space. I feel like this is what we needed here for a while. We have the athletes to do it.
The Eagles made great progress defensively last fall, finishing third in points allowed (22.2) and giving up by far the fewest passing yards per game in the conference (173.5). Master, Josh DeBerry, Jaiden Woodbey, CJ Burton and Elijah Jones are all returning and should make the position group one of the strongest in the country.
Vinny DePalma, Chibueze Onwuka, Cam Horsley, Shitta Sillah, Bryce Steele, Marcus Valdez, Khris Banks and Kam Arnold also return. Hafley said it’s the deepest depth the Eagles have had on the defensive line during his tenure.
The Eagles, who open the season Sept. 3 at home against Rutgers, are determined to escape the doldrums of mediocrity. Hafley acknowledged he himself had “more of an edge” after last year, and it’s clear the mindset has trickled down to the players.
“Everyone is going to count us regardless,” Woodbey said. “We have this advantage and we will keep it.”