BC feels it passed a test

Change of coaches a recruiting challenge

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / February 4, 2009
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When Frank Spaziani became Boston College's head football coach Jan. 13, one task stood out among all others. Merely 22 days remained before National Signing Day. His staff - led by recruiting coordinator Mike Siravo - had to convince their committed recruits they had chosen a school (BC) and not a coach (Jeff Jagodzinski).

They knew it would be a challenge. Jagodzinski's firing served as an unwanted invitation to other schools to try to poach BC's recruits.

"Everyone out there takes your list and tries to go at it," Siravo said.

When the Eagles introduce their class today, they will ignore the poor rankings recruiting services have given it. Instead, they'll take satisfaction in the fact that the class they would have landed had Jagodzinski stayed and the one they in fact got are virtually identical, Siravo said. BC may lose none of the players who had pledged before Jagodzinski was fired and managed to gain two highly regarded ones.

"It's gone better than I thought," Siravo said. "You want perfection. There were actually a couple kids we didn't get - it probably affected kids more that we were recruiting that we had a shot at getting. That's where it didn't go well, and I didn't expect it to. But the retention of the kids we had has gone better than I thought it would."

Despite the encouraging finish, recruiting services roundly ranked BC's class last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Internally, that notion is mitigated by BC's belief in its own assessments and a promising class for next year already brewing. But the immediate bottom line, according to experts, is that this season's class is underwhelming.

"You have to chalk it up to a rough year," said Mike Farrell, the national recruiting analyst for "They struck out on a lot of kids before the whole Jagodzinski thing came down. But the start to 2010 is very promising. I think Spaz is going to be a very good head coach as a recruiter."

Spaziani had a testing start. His staff met immediately after he took over, and they agreed on a strategy. They would speak to all 25 recruits they had targeted - those who had committed and those who hadn't - and then Spaziani would visit as many as possible.

They decided, even in the face of other teams ripping BC's instability, that they would not recruit negatively. Rather, Siravo said, they delivered a uniform message to players: Where would you be happy if your position coach or head coach left? And where would you be happy if you had a career-ending injury and you had to go to school here?

"When you're at that kind of place, you can say to kids, 'This place has been around since 1863. It's been playing winning, successful football with different head coaches and position coaches,' " Siravo said. "The main underlying theme is the kids, the kind of kids this place attracts. That's normally what separates us."

The message worked, as only two players wavered. Cornerback Jim Noel, from Everett, had committed to the Eagles, but until yesterday he was waffling between BC and Penn State. Ultimately, Noel chose BC. Nick Klemm, an offensive lineman from Georgia, reneged on his pact with BC and switched to Maryland. Offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.'s departure affected his decision.

"It's pretty tough to deal with something like this," Klemm told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It's very hard to build relationships in a short amount of time. Boston College hasn't named an offensive line coach yet, and that's someone you want to know. You'll be with that person throughout your college career."

The Eagles can claim several recruiting victories. For their lone four-star recruit, 6-foot-6-inch, 295-pound defensive tackle Dillon Quinn, BC beat out four schools that offered him a scholarship, including Virginia and Tennessee. After Jagodzinski's departure, running back Rolandan Finch from Louisville and linebacker Luke Kuechly from Cincinnati - both three-star recruits - committed to BC.

The most significant player in the long term may be Sterlin Pfifer, a running back from Landstown High in Virginia Beach. Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Auburn, and others vied for him, and Pfifer's decision resonates deeper than simply adding a talented running back. Landstown coach Tommy Reamon is one of the longest-tenured, most influential coaches in the state; he coached former Virginia Tech star quarterbacks Michael and Marcus Vick and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

Reamon has a relationship with Spaziani from Spaziani's tenure as an assistant at Virginia in the '80s and '90s, and he also knows new BC offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill. The Tidewater area in Virginia is one of the nation's most fertile recruiting hotbeds, and Pfifer's commitment could be important in BC establishing a pipeline to the region.

"Here's the critical part of that: You always got to make your first hit in an area," Reamon said. "They got their first hit. That starts it all. They got a great player in Sterlin from one of the top high school coaches in the state. That helps completely. I'm proud to see that happen.

"BC is an excellent environment. Tranquill, I've known him since he was at UVA. Tranquill will keep the flow going. You have quality coaches like that, you don't mind sending your kids there."

Siravo brushed aside the rankings as guesswork based not on ability but scholarship offers, something BC's recent past supports. Quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, two first-round NFL draft choices last April, both received scant attention from ranking services. Defensive tackle B.J. Raji, a likely first-rounder this year, was only a two-star recruit.

Conor O'Neal, a 6-3, 295-pound defensive tackle from Lithia, Fla., "could be the next B.J. Raji," Farrell said, while Kasim Edebali, a 6-3 defensive end from Meriden, N.H., "is a physical freak." Both players received two stars from Rivals.

BC's ratings will improve next season. Because Jagodzinski and the coaches remaining from his staff were brought in during the 2007 offseason, the Eagles had a late start on this class. Next year, that won't be a problem.

"They're going to do well in 2010," Farrell said. "This was probably the most talented group I've seen there at junior day in a decade."

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