By Julian Benbow Globe Staff
The older players talk about it all the time. They’re the ones who came to Boston College in 2008. They saw the coach who recruited them come and go in a flash. They saw teammates jump ship over time. They saw the program go from one that reached consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship games to one that is now dazed by consecutive losing seasons.
They talk about what went wrong, and they point to their class.
“I think a lot of these games were lost three or four years ago,” said captain and redshirt senior Emmett Cleary.
The 29 signees that then-coach Jeff Jagodzinski recruited in his last season as head coach are largely a class of castaways. Only nine remain, and two were walk-ons.
The consequences have been seen throughout a dismal 2-9 season in which the Eagles have relied on just 15 seniors and otherwise threw less-experienced players into the fire.
“It’s hard to win when you don’t have experienced players and experienced depth,” Cleary said. “We’ve got a lot of young players playing and they’ve really played their [butts] off these last couple years, but I think you’d prefer to have those guys redshirt and have experienced backups when injuries and losses happen.”
Some of Jagodzinski’s players left as soon as Frank Spaziani was hired to replace him. Others were dismissed. Some eventually left voluntarily.
When he looked at it, Cleary said, there was a sense of entitlement among some players because of the success that had preceded them.
“I think a lot of guys in our class didn’t immediately understand what it took to get there,” Cleary said. “They expected to get there, they expected to play right away, they expected that it would be easy in a way.
“Guys who maybe weren’t playing a lot their second year, weren’t starting by their third year maybe took that as a shot at their self-confidence or just that they somehow weren’t being treated fairly.
“For us to be good, guys need to marinate a little bit, and I guess my class didn’t buy it. So they all took off, and this is what you get.”
That recruiting class was ranked 33d in the country by Rivals.com. But one by one the pieces fell apart. Nick Halloran, Justin Tuggle, Alexander DiSanzo, and Josh Haden all transferred. Okechukwu Okoroha, Dominick LeGrande, Clyde Lee III, and Montel Harris were all dismissed.
The players still here feel some responsibility for letting it happen.
“Honestly, it’s on us for letting our class fall apart,” Cleary said. “At the time a lot of this was happening, we didn’t know any better. But that’s kind of the consensus we came to, sitting around trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Even when playing time could have been an issue, defensive lineman Bryan Murray not only stayed for four seasons, but he came back this year, served as a senior leader, and has started the past four games.
“I’ve never been much of a follower,” Murray said. “So if I saw people leave, I was never tempted to leave.”
Spaziani reluctantly acknowledged that the defections made things disjointed.
“It doesn’t show right away,” Spaziani said. “It has an unintentional consequence that shows up later on.”
The onus going forward, said junior quarterback Chase Rettig, will be on his class to reset things.
“We should have had some older guys the last two years, even this year, but a lot of guys have left,” Rettig said. “That could obviously play a role in something. Just having older guys is good for the locker room.
“But starting next season, my class — no one’s left my class — so we’ll have a full team and that will help us out a lot.
“The guys in my class have played a lot of football games, so at the end of the season when everything’s done, we’re going to go into the team meeting room, have a team meeting, and we’re going to talk about what needs to stop and what needs to happen in order for guys to see what it takes to win football games.
“We’re going to get that message across to the younger guys.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.