For Boston College, revival starts off the field

JIMMY GOLEN (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) -- When he leaves Mass on Saturday mornings, Boston College offensive lineman Ian White pauses to listen to the bells in the Gasson Hall tower that signify the end of the service and the beginning of the Eagle Walk down to Alumni Stadium for the football game.

''When you come out of the church and we're all together, everyone can hear the bells start ringing. You get the butterflies,'' White said. ''It's my fifth year here and it's a whole new atmosphere.''

After beating Wake Forest in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener on Saturday, the Eagles are 2-0 to start the season for the first time since 2010 and they've already equaled their win total from all of last year. And along with the early signs of success on the field is a renewed interest in the football team on campus.

''It's huge. It's not even close,'' said White, one of the team's captains. ''People are coming up to me and saying they are excited to come to our games. They haven't been like that for a while.''

From its most recent heyday in 2007, when Matt Ryan led the school to the last four of eight straight bowl victories, an appearance in the ACC championship game and a ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 that climbed as high as second in the nation, Boston College has fallen hard. They have won fewer games in each year since then, including a 2-10 record in 2012 that was just the second season with double-digit losses in school history.

Frank Spaziani was fired and replaced by Steve Addazio, a former Florida assistant and Temple head coach whose energy promised to shake up the moribund program - and, the school hoped, the student body as well. Preaching a team concept for a group that became ''fragmented'' - he won't use the word ''selfish'' - Addazio stripped the players' names from the back of their jerseys.

No one complained.

''You can really feel the sense of that team, passion for each other, caring about each other, 'cause they pain-and-sacrificed together,'' he said after the Eagles beat Wake Forest to improve to 2-0. ''They are genuinely happy for each other. It's a nice chemistry. And that's an important building block. I don't hear that talked about in college football anymore.''

The players now take part in an ''Eagle Walk,'' leaving Mass in coat and tie to walk through the middle of the campus to the football stadium, accompanied by the band and cheerleaders. And Addazio has the team sing the fight song in the locker room after the game - but only after wins.

''We wanted to create a team for us to have any success at all. That foundation's important,'' he said. ''So that's why I think we can do great things with that.''

Athletic Director Brad Bates, who is also new on campus, is doing his part off the field, implementing a new ticketing program that encourages students to attend games that have traditionally drawn small crowds - early season, non-conference football games, for example, and events in the Olympic sports. It also rewards them for entering the stadium on time, an incentive designed to eliminate the empty stadiums that greeted many kickoffs while the fans continued to tailgate outside.

Even the mascot has gotten an upgrade: In addition to Baldwin, the human being in a cloth-and-foam costume who dances on the sidelines and wanders through the stands, BC brought in a live bald eagle - the school's first live mascot in almost 50 years. (A naming contest is taking place on social media.)

''It is time that we bring back some of our old traditions and create new ones,'' Bates said after announcing that fans could take pictures with the 9-year-old male eagle before the season opener against Villanova.

So far it seems to be working, with student sections for both home games full of yellow T-shirts worn by the BC ''Superfan'' (though neither was a sellout overall). White acknowledged that the two victories surely helped; the Eagles have a tougher opponent on Saturday at Southern California, a team that was ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 before losing its opener 10-7 to Washington State.

But no matter what happens on the West Coast, quarterback Chase Rettig believes the good feelings have a chance to continue.

''They have a master plan in place and you can see it is paying off,'' he said. ''Hopefully the fans are having a good time at the game.

''But the most important thing is singing our fight song at the end of the game.''

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