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Linebackers Strong Even Without Toal

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff




April 3, 2007

CHESTNUT HILL – Brian Toal arrived at Boston College as probably the most ballyhooed recruit ever brought in by the program.

Toal made his commitment on national television, telling Miami no and BC yes. He was a linebacker who could do it all, even carry the football on offense. He truly appeared destined for great things. When he became the Big East rookie of the year in 2004, the sky seemed to be the limit.

Now, as he prepares for his senior season with the Eagles, Toal is surrounded by questions. One of them is a whopper: Should he consider redshirting this fall, then coming back fully healthy for his final year in 2008?

Toal has been plagued by neck and shoulder injuries. The school didn't announce it, but he recently underwent a clean-up of the right shoulder. Then it was announced that he'd miss his second straight spring camp.

New BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who mostly has refused to comment on injured players, other than to say that he didn't expect any of the problems to carry over to the fall, wouldn't answer many Toal questions with direct answers.

There were responses, but nothing that revealed anything of substance. It was easy for reporters to get the feeling that the new coach just didn't know what would happen next with his star linebacker.

"We're going to see how his rehab's going, and it's going really well right now," Jagodzinski said. "I said to him today, I said, ‘You better get that thing right, or you're not going to be in the backfield at all.' He said, ‘Whoa, hold on a second.' He's a good football player. I told him, ‘I've seen you play on film. I know what you can do.' So (we'd like to) have those guys ready to go when it counts in September."

Just a week earlier, Jagodzinski told the Boston Globe that he was thinking seriously about abandoning the "First and Toal" part of the BC attack. Toal has scored 12 touchdowns over the last two years. The new coach said he was hoping that either of the top two tailbacks, L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender, would be able to handle the short-yardage stuff in 2007.

Then, addressing the media as Toal stood about 40 yards away with his right arm in a sling, Jagodzinski said, "Hopefully, he's involved in so many tackles that you want him to be involved in the offense. I told him, ‘You're not doing anything to get us down there.' I said, ‘All of a sudden, you want to go ahead and cash it in.' I was just joking with him today about that.

"I'm going to have my best 11 guys out there. I mean, whoever that is, I'm going to have my best 11 players out there to help Boston College win."

What could be best for the team and Toal, at least in the long run, is having the player sit out the 2007 season.

The Eagles are deep at linebacker (Jolonn Dunbar, Tyronne Pruitt, Robert Francois, Kevin Akins, Mark Herzlich, etc.) and probably could survive without him. And you have to think that Toal's NFL stock would rise if he were truly healthy for his final season, whenever it comes.

Standing next to Toal watching practice that day was veteran defensive tackle B.J. Raji, his right arm also in a sling. There was no word on what happened to Raji, a second-team All-ACC selection last year.

Others also were missing or limited in camp, but one guy who was there was quarterback Matt Ryan. He's recovering from January foot surgery (he played much of last season with a fracture) but going through the drills.

The first-team All-ACC quarterback quickly impressed his new coach.

"He reminds me so much of Matt Hasselbeck," Jagodzinski said. "I ended up having Matt nine years ago (when Jagodzinski was BC's offensive coordinator), and he reminds me so much of him in that he's very talented, but (also) the way he leads the team in the huddle and all that. It's a lot of fun working with him – and he gets it. He's very, very smart, very smart. He picked up this offense that we're implementing really easy.

"(Ryan) is moving around really good. He hasn't had any issues. We moved practice back a week to give him a little bit more time and trying to get the (more moderate) weather. ...We're going to spend our first six practices in here (at the indoor practice facility) and then move outside."

One quarterback who wasn't moving at all in spring camp was redshirt freshman-to-be Ross Applegate, who decided to transfer. With Applegate, it was a matter of seeing that the new coach (along with new coordinator Steve Logan) wanted a quarterback who can move around, rather than just being a straight drop-back passer.

"We're going to get some kids (at quarterback)," Jagodzinski said, "who can go ahead and make plays."

Jagodzinski called Applegate "a great kid." The coach said he didn't know where the player was headed, but that he thought it would be somewhere in the South. Applegate, an unheralded signee out of high school, is from Marietta, Ga.

Overall, Jagodzinski was impressed with the work ethic of his team in the early days of spring drills, and with the way the players were picking up the new wrinkles being put in on offense and defense.

"BC has always been known for smart, tough kids, and that's what I've got here with these guys," he said. "These guys aren't any different than the guys I had 10 years ago. Just the names and faces changed. Same type of kid, and that's the type of kid BC attracts.

"When you don't have to explain the things 10 times to a guy, it makes it a lot easier, doesn't it?"

The Eagles were set for scrimmages April 14 and 21. The annual Jay McGillis Spring Game was scheduled for April 28.

In another roster announcement, kicker Steve Aponavicius, the left-footed former BC Super Fan who became such a story last year and kicked the winning field goal in the Meineke Bowl win over Navy, was awarded a scholarship. He will compete with ace recruit Billy Bennett (from San Diego) in August.

Finally, there was no announcement, but fullback Tom Walls is no longer with the team. After redshirting in 2004, he played in three games in 2005, then missed all of last year with an injury.

HOOPS: REBUILDING MODE NEXT

The BC basketball team, already hit with the losses of seniors Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall, plus the midseason dismissals of Sean Williams and Akida McLain, suffered another loss when backup guard Marquez Haynes announced his plan to transfer in search of more playing time.

Haynes, an erratic guard from Texas, arrived at BC with Tyrese Rice as a freshman backcourt addition in 2005. Haynes then watched as Rice blew completely by him and became one of the rising young stars of the ACC.

With Rice being a 40-minute type player, Haynes' minutes were never really there. There figured to be more – and possibly a lot more – playing time available next year, but it was clear that Haynes never was going to be more than a role player at the ACC level. No word yet on his next destination.

Haynes played about 17.5 minutes per game in the just-completed season, averaging 3.8 points and 1.3 rebounds while posting 56 assists and 39 turnovers. His athleticism, two years of experience, and ability to guard will be missed.

With Haynes gone, the Eagles' projected 2007-08 roster is down to just five players – Rice, power forward John Oates, center Tyrelle Blair, power forward Shamari Spears and wing forward Tyler Roche – who had any real minutes last season. Most of Roche's playing time came down the stretch, and without much distinction.

BC signed five high school prospects in November, and the team obviously will need some newcomers – led by top-75 swingman Rakim Sanders, assuming he qualifies – to help right away. The coaches also continue to monitor prep seniors on the spring recruiting trail, where the program repeatedly has defied the odds by turning late and mostly unheralded signees (e.g., Craig Smith, Dudley, Rice) into outstanding players in Chestnut Hill.

In other news, Dudley added second-team AP All-American recognition to his long list of postseason honors, which included ACC player of the year.

SKINNER: EXTENSION OR NBA

Just as coach Al Skinner completed his 10th season with the Eagles, his name hit the regional headlines and the national grapevine for two reasons: (1) on-going negotiations between the coach's agent and BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who recently has been effusive with his praise for Skinner, regarding a contract extension, and (2) speculation about Skinner's possible involvement with NBA coaching vacancies in Charlotte and perhaps elsewhere.

The juxtaposition of those two items probably didn't hurt Skinner's bargaining position with BC as the parties' discussions moved into April.

"I think I'm going to be here (at BC) for a long time," Skinner told ACCSports.com in February. "There's really no other university that I'm that interested in coaching at. I've had other opportunities, and obviously I've turned those down.

"As far as the professional ranks are concerned, that's always there, but that's not something that I'm looking forward to. Right now, I'm enjoying what I'm doing, and I'm very happy where I am, and I'm not willing to make a change. If the administration comes to me and says they want to look in another direction, then that's their decision, and then I have to adjust to that. But right now, we're just going to make this work and try to do the best we can."