Sports, Football

Hafley Seeks Out Competition in First Game Week of the Season

Way back in December of last year, newly hired head football coach Jeff Hafley stood at the front of a packed press conference, tears in his eyes, and thanked his family members for their support. He then thanked the doubters—those who said he couldn’t do it—and said that he was grateful to have had to fight his way to the top. The doubt and the competition, he said, is what motivates him to keep pushing forward. 

Now, nine months later, with his first game as a head coach on the horizon, Hafley is extending that competitive spirit to his team. Boston College football is set to kick off its season on the road against Duke (0-1) on Saturday at 12 p.m., and until that moment, he said, many of the players will be fighting for their spots. 

Though BC released a depth chart earlier this week, many positions featured the word “OR” next to them, indicating that the starting spot could go to one of two or even three players. 

“We’re going to compete throughout the week,” Hafley said regarding the “OR”s on the depth chart during Tuesday’s press briefing. “And truthfully, I want to build this thing on competition, and the reason I did that is I believe competition brings out people’s best.”

The hot button issue of the week is who will take over under center. Hafley said BC fans can expect a decision about the starting quarterback when the BC offense takes the field for the first time and not a moment sooner. Right now, the competition is between returning starter Dennis Grosel and Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec. 

Heading to Durham, BC is at two disadvantages. First, the Blue Devils already have one game under their belt—even if it’s a loss to then-No. 10 Notre Dame—which gave them the chance to “get the jitters out,” as Hafley described it. Secondly, though home-field advantage is no longer a factor—both BC and Duke have disallowed fans from their stadiums, at least for the time being—BC is making the long trek south to meet the Blue Devils on unfamiliar turf. Hafley said he doesn’t yet know how travel will look under COVID-19 restrictions, but he said he is sure his team would do anything to get there. 

If BC holds any advantage, it’s that the Eagles are well rested and well practiced, thanks to having no Week One game. For most of last week, the Eagles focused on the fundamentals. After that, they shifted to a more traditional game-week prep, including tackling first- and second-down scenarios at practice on Tuesday morning. 

“When we’re in the building and we’re on the field, it feels like life is normal again,” Hafley said. “It’s kind of the only time when you just get to get away, and your mind’s free and you’re just locked in.”

Duke enters the matchup hot off a 13-27 loss to the Fighting Irish. The Blue Devils struggled to stop powerhouse running back Kyren Williams, who grabbed 19 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start. 

The Blue Devils, on the other hand, showed off quarterback Chase Brice, a transfer from Clemson, and a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. Behind Brice, the Blue Devils got out to a hot start, out-gaining Notre Dame 246-228 in the first half. Brice finished the day with 259 yards on 20-of-37 passing, and he notched one rushing touchdown as well. 

On the ground, Duke’s running game is bolstered by running back Deon Jackson, who notched 52 yards on 15 carries. 

But while Duke as a whole is an unfamiliar opponent to BC, linebacker Max Richardson has some experience playing against both Jackson and Brice back in high school in Georgia. He said he’s looking forward to his position group getting a chance to show off. 

“This week is going to be a good opportunity for our linebacker corps because both [Duke’s] tight end Noah Gray—who caught a lot of balls last weekend—and the running back—number four, Deon Jackson—are both really good players,” Richardson said during Tuesday’s press conference. “It will be a great matchup, and we’re excited to compete against those guys.”

Hafley emphasized that this week’s defensive game plan will revolve around putting pressure on Brice, who he noted is a force to be reckoned with in the pocket. 

One thing is for sure: BC’s opener will bring some tough competition for the Eagles. Duke put up a good fight with a ranked Notre Dame team, and the Blue Devils had one extra game  under their belts to settle in. 

But competition is just what Hafley wants. 

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Senior Staff

September 17, 2020