July 1, 2008
CHESTNUT HILL He's healthy, he's ready, and he thinks he's better than ever.
"I'm excited about this year," Boston College linebacker Brian Toal said. "I have a lot of personal goals. I feel like I can be one of the best linebackers in the country. The way I've been working out, the way I've trained over the past year, I'm ready to kind of put all the work I've had and put my talent against everyone else's and see where they fall.
"I'd say I'm the strongest I've ever been, and probably the fastest I've ever been, right now."
Last year at this time, Toal, who started six games at linebacker in 2006, had reached the decision that his surgically repaired right shoulder would not allow him to compete at any point during the season. Having played as a true freshman, he would sit out his senior year, working hard (even practicing with the scout team later in the season) and hoping to come back after the redshirt year strong enough to both help his team and take the next step toward the NFL.
That, of course, made this June a little different than last. This June came after Toal was actually able to go through spring practice.
"There's a big difference," he said. "Probably around this time last year, I knew I probably wasn't going to be able to play in the season, and I knew we had a real good football team, too. That was a little disappointing, but I knew I still had to work hard in that season in order to get ready for this season. It's totally different. Right now I'm really happy to be back on the field and getting ready to play my last season at BC, and I expect it to be a real good year.
"It took a while to come to the decision I wasn't going to be able to play (last year). I talked to Coach (Jeff) Jagodzinski, and he was real good about everything. He kinda understood where I was coming from, and he really didn't want me out on the field if I wasn't going to be 100 percent out there at the start of the season. He was very good to talk to, and once we talked and made the decision I wasn't going to be able to play, I was kind of happy with that decision. I didn't want to be out there in my senior year doing things that I wasn't ready to be doing."
Toal wasn't alone sitting out the season. His roommate, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, got word just before the opening game that an academic glitch would sideline him, too. Now Raji's also back, and the pair will help lead as good a front seven as you'll find anywhere.
"I was there in the room when (Raji) came back (after getting the bad news)," Toal said. "It was tough for him, but we kinda got through this whole thing together, and I mean I'm really excited he came back. Just to have a guy like him in front of me and to have Ron Brace in front of me, that's awesome for a guy like me. Two great defensive tackles you can't really have anything better than that. It really is a pretty unique situation, and we're excited about our defense this year."
With Jagodzinski determined to have a quick football team, both Raji and Brace trimmed down. They're still big, but not as big as they were.
"We feel like we can match up with anyone, our defense, every year," Toal said. "Going into a game, we feel like we're kinda one of the best defenses around in the country, and we try to prove that week-in and week-out."
The defense doesn't appear to be the question mark with the 2008 BC team. The offense lost No. 3 NFL draft pick Matt Ryan and all the experience the Eagles had at running back.
Toal has been impressed with the work being done by Chris Crane, Ryan's replacement.
"He looks good," Toal said. "We do 7-on-7 every day, and when we're out there there's really no dropoff between him and Matt. It's hard to believe, but the way Chris has been, he's just like Matt Ryan in a lot of ways. We'll see how he is when everything starts up in the season, but I have a lot of confidence in Chris, and I think he's going to get the job done, for sure."
Unlike Ryan two years ago, Crane will not have the benefit of having Toal on offense for short-yardage situations. Third-and-Toal is a thing of the past, with Jagodzinski making it clear that Toal will not be going through the extra wear and tear in 2008.
FLUTIE HONORED WITH STATUE
There are many who believe that Doug Flutie is responsible for most of the good things that have happened to the BC program, or even to the athletic department as a whole. Now Flutie will be honored by a statue that will be erected outside Alumni Stadium.
The work will be done by renowned sculptor Harry Weber, who did the Stan Musial statue outside of Busch Stadium and the statue of Lewis and Clark on the St. Louis riverfront.
One disagreement developed after word surfaced of the honor.
"The only argument Doug and I have had in 10-plus years was when we said the statue would be 5-10," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said. "Doug wanted it to be six feet tall."
Flutie is officially listed at 5-10.
Turning serious, DeFilippo said, "It's a testament to Doug's accomplishments."
It was pointed out that the Flutie statue would be the first non-religious one on the BC campus. But doesn't his Hail Mary pass at Miami qualify?
Flutie and brother Darren were honored early as 2008 inductees into the Varsity Club Hall of Fame. The actual ceremony is in November, but it was moved up for the Fluties because of Doug's fall commitments.
ON FOOTBALL, HOOPS, HOCKEY
The Eagles were steaming toward the opening of fall camp thinking that running back/return ace Jeff Smith would be returning, after battling through head injuries that seemingly had ended his career. But there was still no official word that he'll in fact return.
Former Eagles standouts Gosder Cherilus and DeJuan Tribble, both selected in the recent NFL draft, both were given one year of pre-trial probation for their roles in a 2007 bar fight. Cherilus, taken by the Lions with the 17th pick of the draft, also was ordered to pay $52,000 to an injured victim, who suffered a broken neck and other injuries. The players reportedly got involved as peacemakers in a fight between two other men when things got out of hand.
The early declaration period for the NBA draft came and went with no inkling that Tyrese Rice would be leaving the BC basketball team before his senior season, even though some scouts considered him a possible first-rounder.
Finally, the BC hockey team, which is still the clear hockey power in the ACC, was honored at the White House on June 24 after winning the national championship. The team toured the Walter Reed Medical Center before heading to meet the president. Three BC players were tabbed in the recent NHL draft.