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Young Eagles earning their wings

When the Boston College football team released its depth chart last week for Thursday night's opener at Central Michigan, Eagles coach Tom O'Brien listed five redshirt freshmen (all on defense) and four true freshmen (two defense, two special teams) among the nine first-year players on his two-deep roster.

''These kids all gained their positions on the two-deep and they did an excellent job in preseason camp,'' O'Brien said. ''As I said in the past, I think we had an excellent recruiting year and these guys have beaten out some veterans here to be part of the two-deep here and we expect all them to play and there may be even more to play.''

Among those first-year players who will draw starting assignments include: defensive end Austin Giles, a 6-foot-3-inch, 285-pound redshirt freshman from Marshfield, who will look to fill the vacancy left by the departure of All-American defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka; long snapper Jack Geiser, a 6-2, 230-pound freshman from Dallas, who signed with BC after drawing interest from Arkansas and Iowa State; and punt and kick returner Jeff Smith, a 5-9, 190-pounder from Plympton, who starred as a quarterback/defensive back/returner at Silver Lake Regional High and looks to make an immediate impact on BC's special teams with his speed and athleticism.

''It's going to be a real honor to have the opportunity to start in place of a guy like [Kiwanuka],'' said Giles, who was originally recruited as an offensive lineman, then moved to defense where he worked at tackle then was switched to end and won a battlefield promotion when sophomore Jim Ramella (shoulder) did not respond well to offseason surgery was ruled out for the year.

Geiser, though, would appear to have the toughest assignment of all, especially with little margin for error as a replacement for three-year starter Francois Brochu.

''My goal is just to stay calm out there and basically do what I've been practicing a whole bunch and stay confident with what I've done before,'' Geiser said. ''My opportunities are limited to do my job in a game. So the room for error is just small to minimal. But I've practiced and I've been there before [during preseason scrimmages] and I think I'm ready.''

The last time BC opened the season with a road trip against a Mid-American Conference opponent, the Eagles had to break in a new snapper when Brochu suffered a season-ending wrist injury during preseason camp. BC, as a result, suffered catastrophic breakdowns in its punt and kick operations.

''I'm sure there's going to be first-time jitters for me,'' Geiser acknowledged. ''But I've just got to separate myself from the game, and go out and do what I've been repeating in practice.

Geiser said he played guard and defensive tackle in high school at Jesuit College Prep, but knew his ticket to college was as a long snapper. ''For a guard or defensive tackle, I'm obviously undersized to play at the next level,'' he said. ''But I knew if I stuck with snapping, and practiced hard enough, I knew a big school like this would need someone to do the job.''

Smith, meanwhile, broke into the starting lineup as DeJuan Tribble's sidekick on BC's punt return and kick return teams. Smith, who last season ranked as the New England 200-meter champion (20.89 seconds), impressed BC's staff with his speed and quickness during camp.

''It means a lot,'' Smith said, of the distinction of being one of two freshmen starters on BC's roster. ''It means I've been working hard, and that I have something to contribute to this team, at least the coaches think so, with my speed.''

Where's the beef?

Ron Brace caused several double takes during preseason camp after losing 22 pounds and slimming down to 332. The 6-3 sophomore defensive tackle from Springfield will combine with massive junior defensive tackle B.J. Raji, a

6-1, 341-pounder from Washington Township, N.J., to give BC's defensive interior a whopping run-stopping force of 673 pounds.

Listed at 340 on the depth chart, Raji says he put on ''5-6 pounds'' during the offseason while Brace shed his weight after following a nutritionist's plan of ''what to eat and when to eat it'' and by staying away from ''fried foods and white bread.''

But the biggest thing Brace had to cut out of his diet? ''Uno's,'' he said.

As in Pizzeria Uno's? ''Yeah, those deep-dish pizzas are what got me; that crust,'' Brace sheepishly acknowledged.

Brace, though, noticed the results of his weight loss not only when he stepped on the scale and ''saw that number go down - fast'' but when he also stepped on the practice field. ''I feel a lot quicker off the ball, moving laterally,'' he said. ''My knees weren't hurting as bad [compared to a year ago during camp], I was able to go more plays, and even the offensive linemen said they could tell I was coming off the ball quicker.''

That bit of news could throw a wrench into the plans of Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly to run away from BC's massive run-stoppers. ''From our standpoint, what we do, we're going to force those big fellas to run a little bit,'' Kelly said yesterday during a teleconference of the

Mid-American Conference football coaches. ''We're not going to run it inside the hashes. They're going to have to run from sideline to sideline.

''First game, you want to get to their bench. You want to get to that second defensive tackle and you want to get to that backup guy, so we've got to force them to defend the whole width of the field and not just inside the tackles.''

But Brace believes opponents will look at him and Raji and underestimate their speed and quickness because of their size.

''Yeah, they see us as 330-pound guys who can't really move, they see us as just run-stoppers,'' he said. ''But we want to show we can be quick off the ball, use our hands really well, and are really mobile for guys our size.''

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