Seniors Set To Bid Adieu in San Francisco

December 26, 2009 - 10:20 am

The changing of the guard is nearly complete at Boston College. The Eagles football squad this year was led by a first year head coach, a freshman at quarterback and another rising star freshman at the linebacker position not to mention a pretty decent sophomore running back. Yet this team was not carried to a surprising 8-4 regular season record solely by the efforts of Frank Spaziani, Dave Shinskie, Luke Kuechly and Montel Harris. The backbone of this BC squad all year had been the stout leadership of the senior captains -- center Matt Tennant, middle linebacker Mike McLaughlin and wide receiver Rich Gunnell. These seniors are the last remaining players from the Tom O'Brien era and have played for three head coaches and a plethora of quarterbacks while overseeing one of the more prosperous, if turbulent, stretches of Eagle football history. They have been to two ACC Championship games and, as of this evening, five of the 11 straight bowls that BC has been to over the last decade. "I think it is a tribute to us, to the seniors, to the players," McLaughlin said last month. "It just goes to show you that anything, coaches, schemes, ideas, whatever, comes down to who puts on the helmets and shoulder pads every day and goes to work and really what that message is from those players. I think we have done a terrific job so far with two ACC Championship games." There will be no championship hardware coming back to Chestnut Hill this season but the Eagles do have a chance to bring back a bowl full of emeralds if they beat the University of South California Trojans tonight. BC is primed and ready to take on USC in the Emerald City Bowl at AT&T Park in San Francisco on ESPN at 8:00 p.m. EST. It is a bit of a surprise matchup created by the two teams doing what nobody expected them to be doing. For BC, that means winning eight games and fighting for the ACC Atlantic Division title until the last weeks of the season after being picked by the media to be the second worst team in the conference. On the other end, USC lost four games (including three out of its last four) and will be in its first non-BCS bowl game in the last seven years. "I would have said, 'man, you actually think we're going to be in the BCS?'" Spaziani told reporters who asked if he was surprised by the USC matchup. "But hey, it goes back to that prediction theory. You never know what happens when the season plays out. It obviously wasn't foremost in everyone's predictions, but nothing surprises me in college football." "I think it's good for our program. It's interesting, and I think it's good," Spaziani said. "Perfect timing. Whenever you play somebody like that, it gets everybody's attention." It will be an interesting game for the seniors, the icing on the cake to four or five years of work--work to become a good football team, work to earn their degrees and work to gain the respect of the college football world. It has not been easy on Tennant or McLaughlin but they come away from Boston College having learned a lot about themselves. Tennant said multiple times this year that he almost transferred after O'Brien left, citing homesickness and bad grades, but he came through it to be named a captain this season and lead an offensive line that has allowed Harris to break multiple school records for a sophomore running back. Tennant reflects on what it took to be an effective student athlete. "Just my time. I'€™ve got a lot on my plate. Waking up early and lifting and class afterwards, I have to study, practice. I want to have a little free time after that," Tennant said. "My freshman year my grades were bad and was not really doing that well. It is just understanding what you need to do and what is required of you here at BC." MacLaughlin echoed a similar sentiment of learning how to manage his tasks but also said the most important lesson was that hard work will almost always be rewarded. "I think the biggest thing I learned is that you can never work hard enough," McLaughlin said. "It is a bit of a cliché, I know. You really can'€™t, especially when you are a student athlete at a school like this, you are demanded of your best everyday. Just like the motto at the school 'Effort to Excel' that is no more true than being a football player. The amount of hours that I have put in this building [Alumni Stadium] the last five years has been incredible." The last remnants of an era will pass from BC present to BC history tonight as the last seconds tick down in San Francisco. For many of the seniors it will be the final time they will ever play organized football and for all of them the last time they strap on the maroon and gold uniforms to represent what, in the very near future, will be their alma mater.