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Flying under the radar

Boston College Eagles soar high among pro neighbors

Posted: Wednesday October 24, 2007 10:39AM; Updated: Wednesday October 24, 2007 5:51PM
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With his team 7-0 and ranked No. 2, first-year Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski has made a pitch to become college football's coach of the year.
With his team 7-0 and ranked No. 2, first-year Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski has made a pitch to become college football's coach of the year.
Photo courtesy of Boston College
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By last April 18, already four months into his tenure as Boston College football coach, Jeff Jagodzinski, the former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator with the folksy accent and the free-throwing offense, had yet to fully immerse himself in Boston. He had shaken hands with alumni, kissed the boosters' babies and basked in the avalanche of applause from the students at halftime of a basketball game. Still, his introductory tour had yet to bring him from his third-floor perch in the Yawkey Center football offices on campus down to the friendly confines at Four Yawkey Way.

So there he was on a Friday night at Fenway Park, taking his turn in the Hub's rotation of A-list sports figures to throw out a first impression. Choosing not to go it alone, he let his dancing partner break the ice. "I dropped a knuckleball on them," says Jagodzinski in his thick Wisconsin accent. "[Tim] Wakefield was pitching that night, and I talked to him a little. Met the owners, talked football with [Kevin] Youkilis. When I was up on the mound that plate looked a million miles away. That baby just dropped right off the table."

To listen to BC offensive coordinator Steve Logan, though, the pitch may have gotten away from Jagodzinski. "He came back and told us it was a success," says Logan. "But I heard it wound up in the dirt."

According to Logan, no videotape exists of Jagodzinski's pitch, not even in the extensive New England Patriots film library nearby. Nevertheless, the Eagles (7-0), forever the little brothers to Boston's professional teams, have been pitch-perfect in their execution under Jagodzinski. Three meat-and-potatoes conference games, including a 37-17 win over previous coach Tom O'Brien and N.C. State, to begin the season led to a 3-0 start, and then the cupcakes were served. Less-than-stellar performances against Army, then UMass, and an inability to bowl over Bowling Green left the door open for overrated chants. A win in the Holy War provided BC with its fifth straight over Notre Dame. No matter, the crucible still lies ahead Thursday night against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. "I'll tell you, that first-pitch chance was one of the biggest thrills so far," says Jagodzinski, who will face five teams with winning records the rest of the way. "Hopefully there are more to come."

Certainly the greatest beneficiary of the coaching change has been senior quarterback Matt Ryan, the Heisman hopeful with an All-America arm and aw-shucks answers to praise. Relieved of the handcuffs placed on him in O'Brien's offense, the Philadelphia native has thrown for 2,148 yards and 17 touchdowns in an offense that leads the ACC with 455.4 yards per game. Prior to each game, whether it be in a conference room at the team hotel on the road or at home, Ryan, a devout Catholic, serves at the right hand of athletics department chaplain Father Tony Penna as a eucharistic minister. For Jagodzinski, who used to attend mass with Brett Favre on Sunday mornings, the similarities do not end at the altar. "There's a maturity to Matty and he has played about as well as we could have asked of him," says Jagodzinski, who took a leap of faith out of Lambeau to return to Chestnut Hill where he was offensive coordinator from 1997-98.

Aside from Ryan's rise, the punchy defense drilled by O'Brien holdover defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani (currently tops in the nation against the run) and a roster replete with 17 fifth-year seniors, the parting of the top 25 for the Eagles has been Biblical in its proportions. After beginning the season outside the AP top 25, BC entered at No. 21 in Week 2, jumped to No. 14 in Week 3, rose up to No. 12 in Week 4, moved to No. 7 in Week 5, climbed three more spots to No. 4 in Week 6, nudged its way to No. 3 in Week 7. On the eighth Saturday, the Eagles rested. Waiting and watching as the pollsters had no choice but to place BC at No. 2 following South Florida's loss to Rutgers last Thursday. "We're the new kid on the block in the sense that Alabama was winning bowls in the 1920s, but we've been competitive for a while now," says BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo.

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