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Aug. 15, 2006
By Kevin Armstrong
Special to CSTV.com
"I don't think we're the new kid on the block," O'Brien said. "It' not a ten year-thing. We still play teams that we have not played before on the schedule. This year it's Duke. Miami, we have already known."
The honeymoon ended less than six minutes into the first quarter of last year's ACC home opener against Florida State when A.J. Nicholson returned a Quinton Porter interception 19 yards for a touchdown. Seminoles seven, Eagles nothing. Welcome to the ACC. A seminal event, indeed.
What began as a celebration of new marriage ended in a funereal setting. This year, though, BC will be overcoming the losses to graduation of Matthias Kiwanuka, the defensive lineman chosen by the New York Giants in the first round of the NFL Draft as well as offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood, who is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
"Replacing guys like Mathias and Jeremy, let alone a playmaker like Will Blackmon, is certainly going to be tough, but we have to be ready to step in for those guys, too," said junior quarterback Matt Ryan, who is 5-1 as a starter. "We have those guys right here."
It's Ryan who will be expected to lead that pack. Ever since he stepped into the full time starting spot last year, Ryan went 5-0 and showed a steely resolve to stand in the pocket and scramble when necessary, all the while leading the team to an MPC Computers Bowl win.
"He's always been a tough kid and great competitor," O'Brien said about Ryan. "I think he earned immediate respect in the huddle when he took that hit against Clemson with his helmet getting popped off. Guys see that in the huddle, and think if their pinky is hurt, maybe they shouldn't complain."
Ryan will be re-taking the reins of the offense, but he will be receiving his snaps from Kevin Sheridan, a 6-foot-3, 296 lbs. junior who served an apprenticeship under Pat Ross, who is now with the Seattle Seahawks.
"Pat was great with showing me along the way,"
The center position is set, but it is the left guard spot that is still open to debate and competition. Both Ty Hall and Ryan Poles will fight for that position in camp.
Running behind the line will be three running backs who are all experienced, and if left to their own devices and playing time, could possibly each gain 1,000 yards. That is not the case, and the shared duty will be spread amongst L.V. Whitworth, Andre Callender and
"With the numbers that we have in the back field, it should help Ryan to feel comfortable back there," O'Brien said.
It's the receivers in the open field, however, that will need to be assessed. Gone are the 80 catches that were split between Will Blackmon and Larry Lester, both of whom had started out as receivers when they came to BC. Now filling in the starting positions will be Kevin Challenger and Tony Gonzalez, a local product who has shown a knack for the big play.
Injuries will also play a role in BC's early schedule as they will be fighting off a hip injury to strong safety Ryan Glasper, who is out indefinitely.
"I've got a flat tire," said Glasper, who has a team high 152 career tackles. "I need to stay strong mentally and physically to keep my hopes up. I just can't take this lying down."
Two freshmen will compete in camp to replace Glasper for as long as necessary, but the secondary is supposed to be a strength for the Eagles as DeJuan Tribble and Larry Anam bring experience and explosiveness as well.
Without Glasper, the sureness of a veteran playing in the secondary will be a challenge that the defense will have to overcome.
"It will definitely be different," linebacker Brian Toal said. "But we trust the guys coming in and we'll get them up to speed."
Toal, who recorded 53 tackles in 11 games last year, will look to return to action after sitting the spring with a shoulder injury that he suffered against Maryland last season.
"I'm ready and healed," said Toal, who will continue to be used in short yardage situations as his 'First and Toal' popularity proved fruitful last year. "I just want to get back out there and show improvement each week on the field."
And Toal will be able to display that improvement early and often as the Eagles play a key game Sept. 9 against a much improved Clemson team that lost to the Eagles at home in Death Valley last year in overtime.
Couple that home test with road games at
"We learned last year that you have no weeks off," O'Brien said. "The