By Dave Glenn
September 26, 2006
Tom O'Brien is consistent.
The Boston College leader, a Navy graduate and a former Marine, doesn't get too high or too low. He rarely smiles. The winningest football coach in BC history, he deflects individual praise, repeatedly mentions the value of his assistants, and balances his positive comments about his players with larger doses of a need-to-get-better sentiment.
O'Brien shares those and many other habits with former Virginia coach George Welsh, under whom O'Brien worked in Charlottesville from 1982-96. Another example: O'Brien rarely makes an attempt at humor, but he can be pretty funny when he does.
"My wife asked me to do something just the other day, and I told her I just became the winningest coach in Boston College history," O'Brien said. "She said the trash doesn't know that, so it's still my job to take it out every week."
O'Brien, now in his 10th season with the Eagles, is a consistent winner, too. He has won seven or more games for seven years in a row, and eight or more games for five years in a row. He has been to a school-record seven straight bowls, and his six-game bowl winning streak is the longest in the nation. His program has been honored for its graduation rate eight times, including for a 100-percent performance in 2004.
The coach's consistency is evident on the recruiting trail as well. While many others cast wide nets, the Eagles prefer to identify a much smaller number of early targets and give each a larger amount of attention. Year after year, the average academic profile of BC's signees ranks behind only that of Duke in the ACC. Geographically, O'Brien and his staff focus mainly on the New England region (which doesn't produce large numbers of Division I-A prospects), plus New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, year after year after year.
"It's a formula that has worked for us," O'Brien said. "We certainly have our base close to home, but we also recruit nationally."
The 2006 Eagles also have scholarship players from California, Canada, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
BC's recruiting classes don't often impress the analysts. The Eagles sign a prep All-American or two (e.g., departed all-purpose ace Will Blackmon, junior linebacker Brian Toal) in most years, but it's rare for them to get credit for a top-25 group. This year, only one of the team's first 12 commitments came from a prospect given more than a three-star rating from the major recruiting services.
"We don't worry about the hypothetical great recruiting class," O'Brien said. "Our job is to find the 20 or 25 student-athletes who are the best fits for what we do here, academically and athletically, at Boston College. What we consider a strong class may not impress someone else, and that's OK."
Here's a review of some of the high school seniors who have announced that they will spend their college careers in Chestnut Hill:
San Diego (CA) Torrey Pines PK Billy Bennett, rated one of the top 10 placekickers in the nation, committed to BC in March over Arizona State. He also had scholarship offers from Kansas State, Texas-El Paso and San Diego State at the time of his decision, and he later picked up offers from LSU and others. California kicking guru Chris Sailer rates Bennett the No. 1 kickoff man in the nation this season. As a junior, Bennett converted six of 10 field goal attempts, with a long of 51 yards, and sent 86 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He has a 3.7 GPA and an 1,870 (new scale) SAT score. His main recruiter with the Eagles is special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie.
"I've had my mind on Boston College since about a year ago," Bennett said. "I visited for the N.C. State game (as a junior), and it just felt like the right place for me -- the school, obviously, the coaching staff, the players, the campus, the city of Boston. I just liked everything about it. The players there are really college students, not just football players, and that's important to me."
Belmont (MA) Hill WR/DB Corey Gatewood, rated one of the top 25 seniors in New England, picked BC in February over interest from Harvard, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia and Wisconsin. As a junior, Gatewood had five interceptions as a cornerback and scored 12 touchdowns, including a 94-yard reception, an 88-yard kick return, a 35-yard run and a 30-yard interception return. Belmont Hill, a male-only private school and traditional gridiron power, finished 8-1 last season. Gatewood benches 245 pounds, squats 330 and runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. He is on track to qualify academically. His main recruiter with the Eagles is special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie.
"I only looked at schools that had a good balance of academics and athletics, and I didn't want to go any farther away than Notre Dame or Virginia," Gatewood said. "Boston College has everything I was looking for -- a very competitive football program, strong academics in my field (sports medicine), great coaches, and players I felt comfortable around. With (Belmont Hill linebacker Dan Williams) going there, too, it's great that I'll be heading to college with someone I already know from high school."
Charlotte (NC) Providence WR Dominick Magazu, rated one of the top 50 seniors in North Carolina, chose BC in April over Kent State. Duke, East Carolina, Marshall, UNC, N.C. State and South Carolina also showed interest. He is the son of Carolina Panthers tight ends coach Dave Magazu, a former BC offensive line coach, and his brother Anthony is a redshirt freshman quarterback at Kent State. The Magazu family still has a lot of relatives and friends in the Boston area. As a junior, Dominic earned all-area and conference defensive player of the year honors. He had 28 receptions for 560 yards and seven touchdowns as a wide receiver, plus 55 tackles and six interceptions as a safety, for a 9-2 team. As a sophomore, he had 25 receptions for 575 yards, along with 45 tackles and six interceptions. Magazu runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. His main recruiter with the Eagles is tight ends coach Jim Bridge.
"The best thing about (Magazu) is that he competes at a high level every day," Providence coach Randy Long said. "Thanks to his father, he knows the game extremely well, and he understands the importance of hard work and preparation. He's spent a lot of time around NFL players, and some of that is sure to rub off, too. He's a kid who's going to get everything out of his ability."
Waterbury (CT) Holy Cross DB Dan Mulrooney, rated one of the top 10 seniors in New England, opted for BC in June over Connecticut. Syracuse also showed interest. An all-state selection as a junior, Mulrooney rushed for 1,636 yards and 30 touchdowns as a tailback and added 11 sacks on defense for a 9-3 team. A projected safety in college, he benches 320 pounds, squats 415 and runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. His main recruiter with the Eagles is defensive backs coach Kevin Lempa.
"I've wanted to go to BC since I was a little kid," Mulrooney said. "You can't beat the combination of getting a top education, playing close so your family and friends can see you play, and learning from a great coaching staff that goes to a bowl every year. Actually, BC has even more to offer now than it did when I was a kid. The ACC is big-time football."
Tampa (FL) Jesuit DB Michael Peterson, rated one of the top 150 seniors in Florida, selected BC over South Florida and Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech also showed interest. A traditionally strong program, Jesuit products are scholarship players this fall on rosters at Colorado State, Duke (tackle Casey Camero, tailback Aaron Fryer, cornerback Evalio Harrell), Florida, Georgia Tech (tackle A.J. Smith, receiver Andrew Smith), Louisiana State, Michigan, Purdue, South Florida, Stanford and Tulane. As a junior, Peterson had 40 tackles and an interception for an 8-2 team. He is on track to qualify academically. His main recruiter with the Eagles is running backs coach Jason Swepson.
Rensselaer (NY) High OL Kenny Plue, rated one of the top 10 seniors in New York, picked BC in June over Syracuse. Connecticut, Maryland, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Temple and Wisconsin also showed interest. Plue, a three-year, two-way starter at tackle who also is serving as his team's kicker this fall, was an all-state selection as a junior. He also competes for the Rensselaer baseball and track teams. He benches 350 pounds, squats 405 and runs the 40 in 5.4 seconds. He has a 3.2 GPA and a qualifying SAT score. His main recruiter with the Eagles is defensive backs coach Kevin Lempa.
"He's a Boston College kind of kid," Rensselaer coach Joel Preston said. "Great kid, good grades, coachable, responsible, hard worker, good citizen. His biggest challenge will be the level of competition in the ACC. We're a very small high school, so he doesn't see many players close to his size. But he fits what BC is looking for in a tackle -- tall, long arms, good feet."
Lawrenceville (NJ) School RB/FB Devon Ramsay, rated one of the top 25 seniors in New Jersey, opted for BC in July over Vanderbilt. He also had offers from Purdue, Syracuse, Temple and Vanderbilt, plus interest from Iowa, Maryland, UNC, Penn State, Rutgers and Virginia. As a junior, Ramsay played running back (384 yards), linebacker and defensive end but missed four-plus games with an ankle injury. Also a member of the Lawrence-ville track team (55 meters, long jump, shot put), he benches 265 pounds, squats 470 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA and a 1,000 (old scale) SAT score. His main recruiter with the Eagles is running backs coach Jason Swepson.
"He has as much natural talent as anyone I've coached in 25 years," Lawrenceville coach Ken Mills said. "I think he has the perfect body and speed to be a linebacker in college, but he wants to be a running back, and that's what he's talked about with the (BC) coaches. He's big and strong, and he works hard. He's not a burner, but he'll surprise you with his speed for his size."
Chicago (IL) Mount Carmel OL Arthur Ray, rated one of the top 25 seniors in Illinois, selected BC in July over Iowa State. He also had offers from Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Colorado State, Indiana, Kentucky, Miami-Ohio, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. A projected guard in college, Ray helped Mount Carmel to a 13-1 record and an appearance in the state championship game last season. He has a 3.8 GPA and a 20 ACT score. His main recruiter with the Eagles is offensive line coach Don Horton.
"Boston College develops offensive linemen and sends them to the NFL," Ray said. "They play in the ACC, one of the top conferences, and they have very strong academics. It's just the perfect combination of football and academics."