BOSTON (AP) — AJ Dillon ran for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns for Boston College as a freshman behind a patchwork offensive line that was constantly shuffling in new players because of injury.
Give Dillon a full season behind some healthy blockers, and the Eagles think they can break into the top half of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“The quality of the unit, the cohesiveness of the unit is evident,” tight end Tommy Sweeney said this summer. “When you have a tailback like him and when you all come together, it’s a tough thing to stop.”
Boston College went 7-6 last year for the fourth time in five seasons under coach Steve Addazio, turning things around after a 2-4 start with a stunning 45-42 victory at Louisville. Dillon ran for 272 yards and four touchdowns in that game and averaged nearly 180 yards per game over the second half of the season.
Heading into his sophomore season as the ACC’s preseason player of the year, Dillon said he wants to remake himself as an all-purpose back who can catch passes out of the backfield. (He had zero receptions last year.) The player who carried the ball 39 times against Louisville also said he wants to work on his stamina.
“Not that I’m never going to get tired, but I’m going to give 100 percent each play I’m out there, 100 percent effort,” he said. “That’s what I expect of myself. That’s what I’m trying to do now in camp as I’m getting those reps.”
The Eagles open the season on Sept. 1 against UMass.
Here are some other things to look for in Chestnut Hill this year:
The next step
The Eagles had won two of their previous 17 ACC games when they went down to Louisville on Oct. 14 and beat the Cardinals. With wins in the next two conference games — and four out of five in all — BC players point to that game as the turning point that allowed them to finish with a 7-5 record in the regular season and a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl.
“The next step is going from a six or seven-win team to a nine or 10-win team, or whatever,” Addazio said. “To be able to go on the road at Louisville and be able to outscore that team with that quarterback. It’s hard to do. That kind of got the ball rolling for us with confidence. … It happened at Louisville and then we saw that.”
Linebacker Harold Landry left for the NFL, where he was a second-round draft pick of the Titans, and no one player is expected to replace his presence on defense.
Zach Allen, who was one of two defensive linemen in the nation with 100 or more tackles last season, bypassed a chance to go pro in order to play out his senior year. Defensive back Lukas Denis was second in the nation with seven interceptions last season, and Will Harris had 83 tackles out of the secondary.
“Harold was a great role model how to conduct yourself,” Allen said. “Just kind of following his example, leading into last year, kind of helped me learn how to be a true professional football player. And I think kind of helped me with that breakout year.”
Anthony Brown helped spark a three-game winning streak in the middle of the season before leaving the North Carolina State game on crutches on Nov. 11 and missing the rest of the season with a non-contact knee injury. Now a sophomore, Brown has been cleared for full football activity and Addazio anointed him as the starter.
“A lot has to do with that trigger man,” Addazio said. “Anthony looks great. Hopefully he’ll continue on his course back and be ready in the appropriate amount of time.
“Honestly, he’s ahead of schedule,” the coach said. Everything looks great. Throwing the ball, great. I mean, so just got to keep our fingers crossed and continue down that path. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t be there.”
Brown said having Dillon in the backfield is a huge help for the passing game.
“When I know I can hand the ball off, we can easily get from 5 to 70 or 80 yards, takes a lot of pressure off of me, takes a lot of pressure off the coaches,” he said. “If I fake a handoff to him, everybody is coming down.”
On the schedule
BC opens against UMass on Sept. 1 and then plays Holy Cross, renewing an old New England rivalry that had been dormant for 32 years. The Eagles played the Crusaders 82 times between 1896 and 1986 but haven’t met since.