Sports, Football

Hafley Keeps Forward Focus Ahead of Virginia Tech Clash

As Boston College stepped off the field after a 31-30 overtime victory over Pittsburgh, the Eagles were celebrating. But just moments after they stepped into the locker room, head coach Jeff Hafley already had improvement on his mind.

“Did we play great today? No,” Hafley said to the team in a video on BC football’s Twitter account. “But it shows you what we can do.”

The Eagles have already defied expectations under first-year head coach Hafley, as they began the season at the bottom of the ACC Preseason Rankings. Since then, BC has made its way all the way into the “receiving votes” category of the Week Six AP Top 25 Poll

From very early on in this season, Hafley has emphasized the importance of working on the little things. This week, the young coach echoed that same sentiment and also discussed the importance of large-scale, week-by-week improvements.

“Now’s the time to push,” Hafley said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “Now’s the time to take care of the little things, and now’s the time to get better. Because now’s where you’ll see teams will go in two different ways: They won’t continue to get better, or they will. So we need to continue to get better every single week.”

After four games—three of which were decided by less than one score—Hafley said his squad is pretty “banged up.” Even so, he said he encouraged them to keep fighting, particularly ahead of BC’s matchup with No. 23 Virginia Tech this week. 

“Our guys are focused,” Hafley said about this week’s ACC showdown. “We have to get better. I’m still going to make this about us, but a ton of respect for Virginia Tech, their staff, and I’m excited to play the game.”

This week, Hafley will get to coach in front of a live audience for the first time ever as a head coach. Up to this point, Hafley and his squad have just appeared in front of a crowd of cutouts, but when the Eagles head to Blacksburg, they’ll be greeted by the Hokie faithful.

Since Virginia Tech will have the first real home field advantage of BC’s competitors so far this season, minimizing mistakes will be more important than ever for the Eagles. Over the first four games of the season, BC has averaged 66.75 yards of penalties per game, which has greatly hindered the Eagles’ performance on both sides of the ball. 

“I think the biggest thing with us is we do try to learn from our mistakes and admit our mistakes,” Hafley said. “And I certainly admit mine. I’m just trying to get myself better [at] making sure the team goes forward.”

The Eagles will face a tough test in Blacksburg no matter how few mistakes they make, as Virginia Tech boasts one of the best rushing offenses in the country. Currently ranked No. 3 in the country in rushing offense, the Hokies average a staggering 299.3 yards per game on the ground. BC’s rushing defense sits at No. 31 in the country, allowing an average of 135.8 yards per game on the ground.

But just as Hafley is working to get better individually, so are many of the Eagles. Josh DeBerry, who has recorded 20 tackles, an interception, and three pass breakups in the first four games, said it’s Hafley’s—and the other coaches’—mentality of improvement that encourages him to work harder.

“They have taught me new techniques … and continue to have that mindset: just go out and really strive every week to be better and better and become one of the best corners that I can be,” DeBerry said during Tuesday’s press conference. 

A lot of the individual improvement comes from players pushing each other in practice, according to Zay Flowers. Flowers, known as one of the fastest players on the team, said he challenges his speed in one-on-one drills with Elijah Jones, Brandon Sebastian, and Bryce Sebastian, three of his “top four” fastest players on the team. Flowers, of course, is the fourth player on that list. 

BC will face one of its toughest challenges thus far on Saturday, and Hafley said he’ll continue pushing himself and his team to get better right up until kickoff.

“To me, every day I have to get better,” Hafley said. “I think if we all have that attitude, we’ll continue to take small steps and be a better team and better football players.” 

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor

October 13, 2020