He cannot promise them sunny days or straight A's, but Boston College coach Dan Henning can assure recruits of one thing: more prime-time television exposure than Bob Saget. As they shoot for their fourth straight bowl berth, the Eagles will make at least seven national TV appearances, which will place them second among Division I programs, right behind another Catholic school with gold helmets.
There is no mystery to the networks' affection for the Eagles, who knocked off Kansas State in the Aloha Bowl last season to finish 7-4-1. BC is a fine academic institution, but as yet no one at the school has learned how to pad a schedule properly. Don King would hate this team. It has 12 games on its '95 regular-season schedule and hardly a tomato can among them.
The fun starts Sunday when the Eagles take on Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic. The rest of the schedule includes trips to Michigan State, Syracuse and Notre Dame as well as home dates with Michigan, West Virginia and Miami. "I don't know if we'll ever win a national championship," says Henning, "but with our schedule, we'll definitely give ourselves a chance."
The Eagles gave themselves no chance in the last two seasons, dropping the first two games each year. Last season, after a lackluster 21-9 win over Pitt, the 1-2 Eagles hosted Notre Dame in a game that was billed as the Revenge of the Irish. BC had traveled to South Bend the previous fall and stunned the unbeaten Irish with a last-second field goal. Notre Dame said the rematch would be different, and indeed, it was. This time the Eagles manhandled the Irish 30-11, turning around their season and turning the heads of high school stars around the country.
"To me, beating Notre Dame after losing the first two games was like winning the Super Bowl." says Henning, who earned two Super Bowl rings as an assistant with the Washington Redskins, "it was just an outstanding benchmark for this team."
Now BC will have to deal with the loss of nine starters, including defensive end Mike Mamula, one of the most dominating players in the school's history. With a year of eligibility left, Mamula ignored pleas to stay at BC and knocked them dead at the NFL scouting combines. He was selected by the Eagles of Philadelphia with the seventh pick in the draft. Mamula had 13 sacks last fall, but at BC they churn out defensive linemen and linebackers the way Miami cranks out quarterbacks.
BC won't have to worry about breaking in a quarterback. Junior Mark Hartsell has yet to show the poise of his predecessors Doug Flutie and Glenn Foley, but he has the size (6'5", 218 pounds) and arm strength to become something special. "You compare his first year to Flutie's or Foley's," says Henning, "and this kid was better." Hartsell, who threw for 1,864 yards and 13 touchdowns in '94, will enjoy the protection of eight returning lettermen on the offensive line, including All-America candidate Pete Kendall, a 6'5", 287-pound tackle.
As a team, the Eagles have a simple goal this season: "Get faster," says Henning. Last season, while they hit as hard as their Big East rival Miami did, they were embarrassed when the game came down to quickness and speed, and the Hurricanes danced away with a 23-7 win. Of the incoming players, 11 are at the skill positions, and Henning hopes that at least a couple have "that athletic arrogance" that a freshman needs to crack the lineup at this level.
In fact, the entire team may need a little arrogance to survive the next 12 games and live to play a 13th.