During spring practice, when Frank Spaziani first took the reins of the Boston College football team, his mood was tepid, but excited to get started. Four months later, as the Eagles begin fall practice in preparation for the 2009 season, his tone is still the same.
“Do we have our work cut out for us? Yes. Do we have a plan? Yes,” he told reporters at BC football’s media day, held Friday afternoon in Conte Forum. “It’s ultimately up to the players to implement it. It’s up to [them] to get it done.”
Spaziani said he understands the notion that this might be a difficult fall for BC, saying that “the reality is, you guys look at the depth chart, and see what we’ve lost - our guys see the same thing. Our guys understand where they are.”
But that has not dented Spaziani’s enthusiasm for the season.
“We expect to compete each week. We expect to be as good as we can be,” refusing to agree or disagree with projections that BC will finish near the bottom of the ACC. “Prognosticating is for other people… it’s up to us to get out there and execute our game plan.”
“I’m excited. I’m invigorated. It’s a new job… at a great university, with great people, and some great players,” he said.
The theme of practice so far, detected from both Spaziani and the players, is an emphasis on smash-mouth football and hard work.
“I’m really happy with the work ethic,” said Spaziani.
“The biggest difference with [Spaziani] is that he’s definitely an old-school coach,” said Anthony Castonzo, junior offensive lineman. “He played under Joe Paterno. He loves smash-mouth football, and keeps it physical.”
Starting halfback Montel Harris agreed with his teammate, saying practices are “a lot more physical, a lot more up tempo.”
“I’m excited about it,” Harris added. “Ever since high school, my coaches have told me, ‘run it down their throat.’ I’m ready to do that this year.”
A hot topic at the news conference was the quarterback situation. Although signs indicate that 25-year-old former minor league baseball player David Shinskie is the front runner to start on September 5 against Northeastern, Spaziani refused to name a starter.
“We have a very cloudy picture at quarterback,” he said. “We have four young men competing. We hope to get this sorted out soon… nobody has emerged yet.”
On Shinskie, Spaziani said that he has “done a nice job so far. He doesn’t look like he’s been out of football for six years. But, again, we’ve been playing touch football.”
“He’s been out there in the real world, fighting for a paycheck,” said Spaziani, responding to a question on how Shinskie has handled the pressure of taking on the QB role. “He looks like, well, a mature 25-year-old,” he laughed.
While the quarterback position remains a question mark for BC, Spaziani is optimistic about the running game.
“Given his age, I think [Montel Harris] will be a better player than he was last year,” he said.
“We’ve got confidence in whoever ends up as the starting quarterback, but we take pride in trying to make things easier on him by establishing the running game,” said Castonzo.
McLaughlin “where he’s supposed to be,” says Spaz: Spaziani also updated the status of injured senior linebacker Mike McLaughlin.
“He’s where he’s supposed to be at this point. We hope he’ll be back sooner rather than later.”
“Because of our injury situation at linebacker, [that’s a position] where I’d expect a younger person to emerge there. Linebacker, and defensive line.”
Smith returns [again]: Oft-injured senior running back Jeff Smith, who has been a fan favorite in his limited time on the field, returns again for another attempt at a full season.
“Obviously he’s very fast. We’ll use him on special teams, and integrate him on offense as much as we can,” said Spaziani.
When asked if he expects a full season out of Smith, Spaziani said, “we expect a full season out of everybody. We’ll see what happens.”
Solid freshmen: Spaziani didn’t single out any particular freshmen as possible starters or contributors, but said that the group as a whole is very physically talented.
“They’re physically capable; what makes a difference at this level is mental – how you handle [transitioning to college].” he said, adding that it will take time to evaluate which freshmen have properly made that adjustment and are ready to step in.
Keeping tabs on Herzy: Spaziani said that he spoke with linebacker Mark Herzlich today, and that coach McGovern talks to Herzlich daily. Herzlich, who is undergoing treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma, plans to return to campus on September 2nd to take on his role as a “student-coach.”
“Having [Herzlich] around, with his competitiveness, and his leadership… definitely makes a positive emotional impact,” Spaziani said.
He also reported that Herzlich’s treatment is currently going well, and he and his doctors will soon evaluate the next steps on his road to recovery.