College Sports

A look inside one of the most highly regarded recruiting classes in BC football history

"Every coach in the country right now is going to love their class, but we believe we got kids that fit us."

Jeff Hafley guided the Eagles to a 6-5 record this year. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

In a typical year, bonds often form organically as members of the Boston College football staff take recruits around campus to help them get a feel for what the school is like.

This year, those tours still happened, but they all unfolded over Zoom. Relationships still sprouted, but they did so via laptops and other devices.

Head coach Jeff Hafley said it took lots of time, effort, and creativity to recruit during a pandemic. From Director of Player Personnel Joe Sullivan weaving through campus with an iPad to show people the school in the pouring rain to the staff watching recruits in different time zones complete workouts on video, this was a unique experience for all involved.

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Even so, the Eagles were still able to piece together one of their most highly rated classes of all-time. The 2021 class is ranked No. 38 on ESPN’s list, which is the best in school history since the rankings began in 2006. It’s also 34th on Rivals and 39th on 247 Sports.

“What our staff was able to do, without having any of these kids visit to shake their hands and show them around our campus and facility, I give them a lot of credit,” Hafley said via Zoom on National Signing Day this Wednesday.

The recruiting class covers 10 states and the District of Columbia, and it even features an intriguing player from Serbia. Hafley said he’s grateful to the recruits for sticking with and trusting the staff despite never meeting in person.

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“Every coach in the country right now is going to love their class, but we believe we got kids that fit us,” Hafley said.

Here’s what to know about this group.

It features players from California to Alabama to Serbia.

Here’s a look at the class, which isn’t completely finalized but is well on its way.

BC’s 2021 recruiting class.

There are four players from Virginia, three from Illinois and New Jersey, two from Alabama, California, Georgia, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Texas, and one from D.C.. North Carolina, and Serbia.

The class features five defensive backs and three safeties, which makes sense given Hafley’s background. It also has two wide receivers, two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, two linebackers, and two offensive linemen.

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Hafley said there was an emphasis on finding athletes with size and length that can run so the Eagles can get after the quarterback more effectively. He hopes all of the players come in and push those who are already on the team.

“Championship programs are built on competition at every position, and we just don’t have a lot of that right now,” Hafley said. “We brought in a bunch of guys, and we’re going to bring more guys, and I want them to compete. I’m counting on them to compete.”

Here’s a closer look at each player.

Shawn Asbury, DB: He was rated ESPN’s second-best cornerback in Virginia. Defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim: “Shawn is a dynamic athlete with a blend of quicks and speed.”

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Cole Batson, S: His father, Brian, and uncle, Tyler, played football at Stanford. 247 put him at the No. 83 athlete in the nation. Linebackers coach Sean Duggan: “He is a high IQ player who plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

Jaylen Blackwell, S: He was rated as the No. 132 safety in the country and was also a track star in high school. Duggan: “Jaylen is a rangy defender who possesses great lateral quickness and speed.”

Lewis Bond, WR/RB: 247 slotted him as the 10th-best all-purpose back in the country. He averaged over 10 yards per carry and 13 yards per reception in 2019. Wide receivers coach Joe Dailey: “A true athlete, he can line up at a number of positions and play at a high level.”

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CJ Burton, DB: ESPN graded him as the No. 2 player in Maryland and the No. 3 cornerback in the country. Burton, who flipped his commitment from Florida to Boston College, is officially BC’s highest-rated ESPN recruit ever at No. 74 overall. Abdul-Rahim: “CJ is a bulldog, an aggressive in-your-face DB.  He is a quick-footed athlete with twitched-up movement skills and body control.”

Jalen Cheek, DB: ESPN had him as the No. 8 player in the state of New Jersey. Abdul-Rahim: “Jalen is efficient, smart, and tough. He has a knack for the football.”

Tyeus Clemons, DL: 247 put him at No. 45 overall in Alabama, which is a testament to the way BC is establishing itself in the South. Defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase: “Tyeus is a very talented player born with the tools and skill set to stuff the run, rush the quarterback, and be that eraser upfront for our defense.”

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Xavier Coleman, RB: He was New Jersey’s second-rated running back and was a first-team all-state player this fall. Running backs coach Rich Gunnell: “Fast, twitchy, tough kid with good ball skills and return ability.”

Donovan Ezeiruaku, DE: He helped guide one of South Jersey’s top defenses in 2020 with nine tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries. Oghobaase: “A natural-born leader.”

Shawn Gates, DB: He was Ohio’s second-ranked cornerback by 247 and ESPN and is the No 28 player on Ohio on 247. Abdul-Rahim: “When he runs, he runs with urgency.”

Otto Hess, OL: Hess is 6-foot-7, 300 pounds and also threw shot put in high school. Offensive line coach Matt Applebaum: “He has a high football IQ, good technique, and will be able to adapt to college football smoothly.”

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Quintayvious Hutchins, DE: He was 247’s No. 41 player in Alabama and looks like he has a chance to contribute right away. Oghobaase: “Q is a versatile edge rusher with the hips, hands, and feet to become one of the best defensive ends in the ACC.”

Jamareeh Jones, Athlete: 247 put him as the No. 52 athlete in the country. Abdul-Rahim: “A seamless mover, fluid but aggressive.”

Ilija Krajnovic, OL: At 6-foot-8, 325 pounds, Krajnovic is originally from Serbia but played high school football at IMG Academy in Florida. He also participated in volleyball, basketball, soccer, water polo, and mixed martial arts in Serbia and was a middle blocker on Serbia’s U19 volleyball team. Hafley: “You’re talking about a guy with huge, tremendous upside.”

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Connor Lytton, K/P: 247 Sports has him as the No. 5 kicker in the country. He spent three seasons playing for Team USA Football. Special teams coordinator Matt Thurin: “Sean is a tremendously talented kicker with excellent form and incredible work ethic.”

Owen McGowan, LB: The Canton native and Catholic Memorial product was rated as the No. 4 player in Massachusetts by ESPN and Rivals. His brother, Jack, plays football at Harvard. Duggan: “Good tackler who plays the game at 100 mph.”

Emmett Morehead, QB: Morehead, who was also a varsity baseball and basketball player, was graded as the No. 56 pro-style QB in the country by 247. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti:  “Emmett has tremendous upside.”

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Neto Okpala, DE: He ran the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay on the track team and was a two-time all-region pick on the football field in Georgia as well. Oghobaase: “Tough, physical, and relentless player that is going to wreak havoc in the ACC.”

Casey Phinney, LB: Like McGowan, Phinney elected to stay close to home. The Marshfield native and Noble and Greenough product was the No. 2 inside linebacker in Massachusetts. Duggan: “Casey is a hard-nosed, tough player who is going to give you everything he has.”

Dante Reynolds, WR: ESPN had him as the No. 4 receiver in Illinois. He was teammates with Bond at Kenwood Academy. Gunnell: “He is a good route runner with great ball skills.”

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Bryce Steele, S: One of the most intriguing players in the group, he caught Hafley’s eye back at Ohio State when Hafley clocked him when he ran his 40-yard dash. “I did a double-take, and we had him do it again. I got the same time. We went in, and we offered him a scholarship,” Hafley said. He originally committed to South Carolina but elected to play for Boston College instead.

Owen Stoudmire, DT: He was the No. 2 defensive tackle recruit in Ohio according to 247. He played both left tackle and defensive tackle and was a standout wrestler as well.

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Nigel Tate, DT: Rivals put him at No. 24 overall in Maryland. Oghobaase: “Big, athletic, and disruptive player that will be the lock and and anchor for our BC defense.”

Jaden Williams, WR: A three-star WR, he was rated as the No. 215 receiver nationally and was a standout basketball player as well. Dailey: “Jaden is a pure athlete who can play a number of skill positions.”

Jalon Williams, DB: Also a track star, he was 247’s No. 65 player in Texas. Abdul-Rahim: “Jalon has tremendous speed. Texas speed.”

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