Their numbers on Boston College's roster are dwindling. And that might be a good thing. Unlike a year ago, when the Eagles listed 17 true and redshirt freshmen on their depth chart -- the most of any team in the Big East, according to BC coach Tom O'Brien -- the Eagles yesterday listed seven first-year players as backups on their roster for Saturday's season-opener at Brigham Young.
Among them were five redshirt freshmen and two true freshman: defensive end Jim Ramella, a 6-foot-4-inch, 244-pounder from Westlake, Ohio, and strong safety Paul Anderson, a 6-1, 207-pounder from Staten Island, N.Y.
''Last year, we had 17 freshmen on the two-deep, and if you look, the preponderance of numbers right now are the sophomores on the depth chart," O'Brien said, pointing out the 18 who are listed as starters or backups. ''Those kids have grown up and they've moved up and everyone else has stayed the same, and so that hasn't left a lot of room for freshmen."
Redshirt freshman tight end Ryan Purvis is the only first-year player on the offense's two-deep roster. Purvis, a 6-4, 261-pounder from Reinholds, Pa., was pressed into action as backup to senior Chris Miller when sophomore Trey Koziol suffered a season-ending right knee injury in the first preseason scrimmage.
Defensively, the Eagles will enlist the help of four redshirt freshmen -- defensive tackles Ron Brace of Worcester and Keith Willis of Stoughton, linebacker Robert Francois of Highlands, Texas, and cornerback Kevin Akins of Lansdale, Pa. -- along with Ramella and Anderson.
''Obviously, every year you're going to have some true freshmen and, more importantly, you'll have redshirt freshmen," O'Brien said. ''But more and more, hopefully, we won't have to play true freshmen."
So what if Provo, Utah, is some 4,500 feet above sea level?
If you can't simulate it in practice, O'Brien said he wasn't going to waste time worrying about preparing for the altitude.
And while he is aware BYU has won its last three openers against Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame, O'Brien said he doesn't intend to do anything special -- such as arriving two days before Saturday's 3:30 kickoff.
''It doesn't do you any good," O'Brien said. ''You'd have to go out weeks in advance. We couldn't run preseason camp out there."
O'Brien said he consulted several people in and out of football for advice. So whom did the coach go to?
''Well, the Patriots, for one," O'Brien said. ''They don't change any travel plans when they go play at Denver. They go at the same time. They leave at 2 in the afternoon and we're going to leave at 3 in the afternoon [Friday], so it's about the same thing. They've gone to Denver twice in the last three years.
''I also talked to a really good friend of mine, Bruce Arena [the US national soccer coach]," O'Brien added.
''When they went to play in Mexico City, they went and trained for three weeks in Colorado Springs and he said it didn't make any difference.
''I think the most important thing we're going to have to overcome is the BYU football team."