Sports, Football

Hafley Welcomes Return of Spring Football

He may be entering his second year as the head coach of Boston College football, but Jeff Hafley is still experiencing plenty of “firsts.” His first year on the Heights presented unique challenges, but none were quite so disruptive as the COVID-19 pandemic. The suspension of sports last March meant that Hafley and his squad had just two weeks of spring practice, arguably the most important period for team development and scheme installment, especially under a first-year head coach. 

In a year at the helm, Hafley never oversaw Pro Day or coached a spring game. With any luck, he’ll soon check those boxes off. BC’s spring practices begin on March 20, followed by Pro Day on March 26, and a spring game on April 24.

“When you talk about the continuity … what I think is so important now is we can really dive into our schemes and offense, defense and special teams, which we kind of had to hold back a little bit on, you know, without a spring last year,” Hafley said in a press conference on Tuesday.

By “continuity,” Hafley is referring to the large portion of returning starters from the 2020 season, as well as expecting the return of receiver Kobay White, who was out for the 2020 season with a knee injury.

As the Eagles learned last year—demonstrated most clearly by Phil Jurkovec and Dennis Grosel’s battle for the starting quarterback spot—Hafley is on the hunt for competition. 

“Early on, I want this to be about constant competition,” Hafley said. “We’ve got more players here [and] we know each other. I want guys to compete and push each other. And that goes back to, you know, our beliefs of fundamentals and technique being stressed by our staff.”

Six graduate starters from last season will return to BC for another year to provide veteran leadership. Among them is Zion Johnson, an offensive lineman and one of BC’s 2020 captains.

“[Johnson] decided to come back, which is incredible … he’s become already such a better leader, not that he wasn’t a good leader [before], but you can just see it. They’re more comfortable,” Hafley said. “And I also think there’s this confidence and belief in each other that they didn’t have at this point last year, and you can see it in their excitement when they get on the field.”

While the high volume of players returning is important, what Hafley stressed most was the retention of his staff. Since becoming head coach last January, Hafley has presented a person-focused approach to coaching, which extends to his staff. 

Hafley said during Tuesday’s press conference that defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim turned down an offer to be a defensive coordinator at a Power Five institution to stay at BC. Hafley also said that Abdul-Rahim was promoted to associate head coach.

“We had guys with really good opportunities, and we came in and discussed a lot of them, and we didn’t lose any of them, which is huge, and it says a lot,” Hafley said. “They love Boston College and they love our players.”

Offensive line coach Matt Applebaum had a similar offer to coach at the NFL level, but he opted to stay at BC as well, Hafley said. 

Hafley also emphasized the importance of returning a large contingent of players and coaches to help the transition of younger players into the program. That transition becomes especially important this year when BC’s roster features 12 early enrollees who, in any other year, would be finishing up their senior year of high school, rather than competing at the collegiate level. 

“ … Our culture kind of consumed those guys,” Hafley said about the 12 early enrollees and four transfers joining the program this spring. “And the other thing that was pretty special for me was how our older guys kind of took them under their wing and helped them out.”

While Hafley works to prepare his current players for the upcoming season, he’s also preparing former players—namely Hunter Long, Max Richardson, and Isaiah McDuffie—for the upcoming NFL Draft. In lieu of the traditional NFL Combine, NFL prospects will complete combine exercises and tests at their university’s Pro Day, and meetings with NFL team officials will take place over Zoom.

BC’s staff is chock-full of coaches with NFL experience who have been working with BC’s NFL hopefuls to help them understand what to expect and how to prepare for the next level. 

In order to keep athletes and the wider BC community safe, football players and coaches will resume a COVID-19 testing schedule of three times a week, as they did during the regular season.

While a handful of players look to what’s next, Hafley and his staff are focused on what’s happening now. After a productive, but not record-shattering 2020 season, Hafley and the Eagles have plenty more firsts to look forward to, starting with spring practice.

“I can’t wait to start practicing football and being around these kids again,” Hafley said. “And, you know, more importantly than that, I appreciate our team. … These guys are still sacrificing—and that does not go unnoticed—to give us the opportunity to train every day and go on practice on Saturday. … And I can’t wait to start coaching them again.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Josh Reynolds / AP Photo

March 16, 2021