FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Cleary Back To Reestablish Tradition
Returning to BC for his fifth year of eligibility, Emmett Cleary looks to anchor the O-Line
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Few schools celebrate tradition like Boston College does. The examples of student fervor run rampant, whether it’s as simple as Superfan shirts on Saturdays or as elaborate as the Jesuit values of education and service. Each student develops a love for something on the Heights, and fights immensely for its survival and future success.
For fifth-year senior offensive tackle Emmett Cleary, that passion is the football team. It’s why, despite graduating last spring, he returned to BC as a graduate student to fulfill his fourth year of eligibility and assume a leadership role as one of the 2012 captains.
“There wasn’t much of a decision to make,” joked Cleary. “You only leave if you hate it here or you have a chance to be a first-rounder, so most of our class was coming back. Nine of us, actually.”
That’s the unique element to Cleary’s commitment. Saturday home games produce a tailgating scene packed with alumni and a rowdy Alumni Stadium, and in the growing ACC there are no signs of diminishing competition. It’s not as if this tradition is in any threat of extinction.
The team’s record has steadily declined since Cleary first arrived as a freshman four falls ago, however. After reaching the ACC Championship game in 2008, the Eagles have regressed in win totals each season, culminating in a disappointing 4-8 2011 campaign that saw BC fail to qualify for a bowl game that snapped a run of 12 straight years playing postseason football.
The Eagles still stand second overall in wins for ACC teams since moving from the Big East in 2005, but the program’s legitimacy has been temporarily compromised. For Cleary, leaving on such a dull note was unacceptable, and something he doesn’t think can—or will—happen again.
“We definitely had a little bit of unfinished business from being 4-8 last year,” he said. “So that was the motivation to get back in the weight room and say, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Even with the loss of leaders like two-time All-American Luke Kuechly, as well as key linemen Nate Richman and Mark Spinney, the newly instated Graduate Carroll School of Management student truly believes improvement is right around the corner.
“I think, specifically up front, we are going to be much better,” he explained. “We lost two fifth-year seniors from last year. One of them was pretty much hurt all year, though. So we are not losing that much experience, we are bringing a lot of guys back with game experience. And a lot of young talent is coming up from underneath us, so I’m excited about it.
“A football team is so much more than the guys at the top, and I think we are much better across the board at this point.”
In 2011, quarterback Chase Rettig was often rushed, running lanes were quickly stuffed, and the offense struggled accordingly. The university known as “O-line U” had simply lost its reputation. Opposing linemen who once cowered in the presence of BC’s imposing front now drooled over their supple stature.
In week one of 2012, the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead against Miami, proving many pundits who predicted a lack of offensive spark dead wrong. They might have been surprised, but Cleary was not.
BC eventually lost Saturday’s contest 41-32, but Rettig was able to fully scan his surroundings and complete his progressions efficiently.
The result? An impressive 441 passing yards.
“Time is critical,” Cleary said. “If we can keep Chase comfortable and on his feet, he’s going to destroy people this year. I just like that we are able to dictate the pace, that we are making them defend the whole field and forcing them to move in and react to what we are trying to do.”
Meanwhile, for a running unit that ranked 16th nationally just two seasons ago, last year’s significant drop off was discouraging. Fueled by a personnel change that features a three-man rotation in the backfield between Tahj Kimble, Andre Williams and Deuce Finch, Cleary expects a quick return to prominence.
“I felt good about them in the spring, and they’ve been going off,” he said. “It’s good—they have three styles that complement each other. We can run the full offense with each of them, but they all have their specific strengths that force a defense to prepare for.”
There aren’t many stats offensive linemen can cite when setting their goals and sights for a season, but sacks allowed is generally a good starting point. BC allowed 24 last year, a number Cleary couldn’t handle.
“Individually, offensive linemen don’t have stats, so we measure ourselves based on the offense,” he said. “I don’t want to give up any sacks personally, and if we keep that to a minimum as a line we will be more than fine.”
The Hurricanes didn’t bring down Rettig once. In fact, on Cleary’s watch, not a single Miami lineman even hurried the quarterback.
Even if they have an ideal composition of who the front five is right now, the Eagles should be well aware that injuries are commonplace in football. It was the absence of a consistent starting crew that derailed the dreams of last year’s senior class.