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Things We Learned: Herzlich’s return helps Eagles take flight

09.05.10 at 6:00 am ET
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CHESTNUT HILL — It was what everyone was waiting for. For the first time in 612 days, linebacker Mark Herzlich ran out of the tunnel to the Eagles’ faithful in Alumni Stadium, where he was met with a roar of applause.

It was a moment that fans, teammates, family and coaches from across the nation had waited for since hearing about Herzlich’s battle with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. And, of course, Herzlich himself was no different.

“It was excitement. I thought I might be nervous but it was all about playing games,” said Herzlich, the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Herzlich’s emotional return had been impeded this summer by a foot fracture. But while his recovery from that injury limited the amount of time he played on Saturday, he was still on the field enough to rack up five tackles against Weber State.

Herzlich was also joined by a special guest arranged by Director of Athletics Gene DeFilippo. Sister Barbara Anne Hallman, a cancer survivor from Mishawaka, Indiana, forged a relationship with Herzlich when she heard of his diagnosis and flew to the game to see his return, even though it meant missing her Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

“It was awesome that she got to come out,” said Herzlich. “I hope she’ll be able to make it out on Oct. 2 to watch us beat her beloved Notre Dame.”

Clearly the Eagles were able to build off of the energy the return of No. 94 brought. After an early interception, the Eagles scored on four straight possessions to bring the score to 24-3. Boston College never looked back and they kicked off the 2010 season with a 38-20 win over Weber St. (Recap.)

Here are some other lessons from BC’s season opener:

SPAZIANI READY FOR ROUND 2

Following a year of new experiences in his first season as head coach of the Eagles, BC head coach Frank Spaziani entered the 2010 season with high expectations placed on his shoulders. After an 8-5 season that tied Boston College for second in the ACC Atlantic Division, the Eagles are looking to contend for a spot in the ACC Championship and to extend their streak of bowl games another year.

With difficult opponents on the horizon, Spaziani, in his 14th year at Boston College, will face many challenges to keeping the Eagles performing at a consistent level for the entire season.

The Eagles should have expected nothing less than a win against Weber St., but there were problems from the start. On the first offensive possession of the game, sophomore starting quarterback Dave Shinskie threw an interception over the middle that resulted in a 32-yard Wildcat field goal. However, Montel Harris proved to be the sparkplug for the BC offense once again and Shinskie rebounded the next drive to put the Eagles up for good by the end of the first quarter.

“This group was able to put it together and get it against a very well coached, athletic, Weber team. Obviously, though, there were a lot of mistakes. A lot of our youth, a lot of our depth issues, were evident. We need a lot of work but it was a good win, a good way to start and something to build on that we can go forward from,” said Spaziani as he now prepares Boston College (1-0) to face Kent State in Alumni Stadium next Saturday.

The BC offense got in rhythm early, which is a must if Spaziani and the Eagles are looking to advance to postseason play. The defense played well and exhibited many of the same traits that it had when Spaziani was the BC defensive coordinator.

As proved the case last year, BC refused to give up big plays and was able to force three turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown by senior cornerback DeLeon Gause.

A TALENTED OFFENSE NEEDS CONSISTENCY IN THE PASSING ATTACK

After beating out fellow sophomore Mark Marscovetra for the starting role at quarterback, Shinskie will need to prove that he can provide Boston College with a passing threat that will allow junior running back Montel Harris to build on his breakout sophomore season. However, the Eagles will have to do it with an inexperienced group of receivers after graduating 2009’s lead receiver Rich Gunnell and losing top returner Colin Larmond Jr. to a season-ending knee injury.

Many times during the game, Weber State stacked the defensive box and clogged the middle, preventing Harris from finding the open field where he thrives. However, Shinskie and the rest of the BC receivers benefitted from the extra attention paid to Harris, who still managed to gain 115 yards on 19 carries behind the powerful and experienced offensive line of the Eagles.

On their second drive, Shinskie followed a stuffed run attempt with a play action pass that left sophomore tight end Chris Pantale wide open for a big first down. Only a few plays later, Shinskie found Pantale in the end zone for Boston College’s first touchdown of the 2010 season.

There were several mistakes made throughout the game, but the long bouts of inconsistency seen in the 2009 attack were not as evident thanks to some crucial plays that helped the offense find a rhythm. Shinskie finished the game with 185 yards passing, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, while Marscovetra threw a 22-yard pass to freshman running back Sterlin Phifer for the Eagles’ third aerial touchdown.

TIME FOR SOME UNDERCLASSMEN TO GROW UP

Any discussion of Boston College’s underclassmen begins with sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has garnered national acclaim following his tremendous freshman season in 2009. Kuechly finished last season with 158 tackles and is considered one of the top linebackers in the nation this year.

Against Weber State, Kuechly racked up 8 tackles and a fumble recovery, as he showed the same sharp instincts and quickness that defined his first season in Chestnut Hill. Freshman linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis started alongside Kuechly and Herzlich and performed well in his BC debut with 5.5 tackles.

“Luke played awesome. Kevin Pierre-Louis played awesome,” raved Herzlich about his fellow linebackers. “When I say they played awesome, every one of them has stuff to work on but to get out there and get a win no matter how we play is huge.”

The trio will need to continue be a driving force if the Eagles are expecting to handle the tough rushing offenses in the ACC, most notably No. 10 Virginia Tech.

On the other side of the ball, Shinskie, at 26 years old, is still inexperienced but showed signs of growth in his comfort in the pocket as the game wore on. At times Shinskie seemed too hesitant with his reads and would stare down his targeted receiver, allowing the defense to recover in coverage.

However 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman receiver Johnathan Coleman and the 6-foot-6 Pantale proved to emerge as future standouts who were able to use their size and speed to create separation for Shinskie to work with. Twice in the first half Coleman found big holes in the Weber State defense and came up with momentum-boosting first downs. He finished with three receptions for a game-high 98 yards.

“Since we lost Colin no one really knew who we had, so it was good for us to come out and show we have good receivers and we can catch the ball and make plays,” said Coleman. “Hopefully it’s not a question mark anymore and we can do what we have to do to show we can play.”

On special teams, redshirt freshman kicker Nate Freese was perfect in his debut replacing BC’s all-time scoring leader, Steve Aponavicius. Freese was 5-5 on PATs and added a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter.

THE EAGLES HAVE PLENTY (BESIDES WINS) TO PLAY FOR

Boston College enters the season with four preseason All-ACC players and many school records that are within reach. If running back Montel Harris duplicates his success from last year’s season, he could overtake Derrick Knight as Boston College’s all-time rushing leader in yardage and touchdowns.

Senior left tackle Anthony Castonzo leads BC’s experienced offensive line as one of the most highly rated tackles in the nation and is expected to be a top prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft. Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly are both expected to be candidates for the Rotary Lombardi and Bednarik Awards that honor the best defensive players in the nation.

Read More: dave shinskie, luke kuechly, Mark Herzlich, montel harris

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