College Sports

Quarterback Phil Jurkovec feels reborn at Boston College: ‘They taught me to love the game again’

Phil Jurkovec and the Eagles begin the season with a home game against Rutgers Sept. 3. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

In the fall of 2019, dejected and neglected at his dream school, Phil Jurkovec could feel his dreams slipping away.

Ian Book was the quarterback at Notre Dame, and Jurkovec had thrown only 16 passes all season after redshirting the year prior. Just two years earlier, Jurkovec had been ranked the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals. Now, he was stuck in quicksand, trapped in a backup role.

“I was almost done with quarterbacking,” Jurkovec said. “I was really thinking about this next year, if Book came back, I would switch positions to try to get on the field some other way, because I was so frustrated by it.”


Instead, after a pivotal conversation with his family, he entered the transfer portal. Boston College coach Jeff Hafley and then-offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. showed more interest than anyone else, and Jurkovec found himself drawn to a school that wasn’t on his radar growing up.

This was his last shot. He knew he couldn’t squander it.

Fast-forward two-plus years, and Jurkovec, now a graduate student, is one of college football’s most explosive and intriguing players. At 6 feet 5 inches, 214 pounds, he has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Allen, and Daniel Jones, among others. He has the 32nd-best preseason odds to win the Heisman Trophy, and some NFL draft experts view him as a potential first-round pick.

Jurkovec, who missed time in 2020 with a knee injury and half of last season with a hand injury, is healthy and poised for a big season. He’ll once again be at the crux of everything the Eagles do on offense, starting with their opener Sept. 3 at home against Rutgers.

“I’ve been through the wringer in college football,” Jurkovec said. “I feel like I’ve survived. At some point, it’s going to pay off.”

Jurkovec finished his high school career in Pennsylvania with more than 11,000 passing yards in 2½ years and led Pine-Richland to a 16-0 record and a state title in his senior season of 2017. He arrived at Notre Dame with momentum on his side, but it didn’t last long.


“I was disappointed by some stuff while I was there,” Jurkovec said. “The football team and culture is not what people think it to be. I met a lot of great people. They do a lot of good in the world. It’s a mixed bag. I’m glad I went there, and I’m glad I left.”

In Year 2 at Notre Dame, Jurkovec found himself regressing; he was playing worse than he ever had. The NFL dream was fading, and he knew he had to act quickly and decisively.

When he went home that winter, still unsure whether Book and offensive coordinator Chip Long were returning, he said no one from the Notre Dame staff was talking to him. His parents met with head coach Brian Kelly and told him their son was struggling.

Jurkovec said Kelly tried to ease their worries by assuring them he would talk to Jurkovec.

“Kelly basically lied to their faces about what he would do, how he would talk to me and explain things about the future,” Jurkovec said. “He basically lied to my parents, so after that, they were done with him.”

He also grew frustrated with the coaching at Notre Dame.


“It wasn’t as much about how they treated people — because I think they also treated people very badly, very poorly, some of the coaches there — but it was more about their lack of experience and coaching,” Jurkovec said.

Kelly, who is now the coach at LSU, declined to comment.

Many people told Jurkovec to grit it out, but his family knew better. They could see he wasn’t happy, and they advised him to explore his options. Looking back now, he believes transferring was the best decision.

A few other schools called, but he knew he would have a fair crack at a starting job at BC, which was all he wanted.

“I came to BC, and I was shocked at how the game changed before my eyes,” Jurkovec said.

As soon as Jurkovec got on campus, he was confident in his choice.

“They taught me to love the game again,” Jurkovec said. “You can’t really replace that. I can’t pay that back.”

He can try. His 2,558 passing yards over his first 10 starts were the most by a QB in school history, and he finished second among all BC quarterbacks since 1996 with 255.8 yards per game.

Jurkovec started last year strong, but a fluke injury in Week 2 against UMass sidelined him for six-plus games.

He was expected to miss the entire season but returned to start the final four games even though he couldn’t grip the ball fully. Once doctors assured him that his hand wouldn’t get any worse if he played, that was all he needed to hear.


BC finished 6-6, yet Jurkovec fared admirably given the circumstances.

“You saw it last year,” Hafley said. “He had a ton of resolve.”

This season, those who are around him every day see an even more vibrant, engaging, and encouraging Jurkovec. While he’s still fiercely competitive and often quite serious, they’ve observed him embrace the spotlight.

Quarterbacks coach Steve Shimko has noticed a shift. For instance, when Jurkovec hit a young tight end right in the hands and the tight end dropped the ball at an early practice, Jurkovec remained patient and positive.

Running back Pat Garwo called Jurkovec “a warrior” and endearingly referred to him as “a maniac” whose energy is contagious.

“I’ve seen him take the steps year in and year out, day in and day out, of being that vocal leader and light, embracing that light, and bringing everyone with him,” Garwo said.

First-year offensive coordinator John McNulty has marveled at his thoroughness, meticulousness, and discipline. When he introduces a concept, Jurkovec grasps it immediately. There’s never any gray area, McNulty said, and Jurkovec is never going to wing anything or leave out any possible wrinkle.

“He’s already processed A to G, so to speak, and he’s onto H,” McNulty said.

McNulty said Jurkovec will be a “hugely intriguing” prospect next year if he breaks out like former Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett. He said he’s the old prototypical-size quarterback with new-prototypical skills.

“I don’t see any reason why he’s not in that mix of first-round guys,” McNulty said. “There’s only so many guys that can do these things.”


But first, Jurkovec has unfinished business at BC. Shimko talks with him every day, and he’s never heard Jurkovec mention the NFL draft.

His father, Jim Jurkovec, credits Hafley & Co. for changing the trajectory of his son’s journey and helping him regain his mojo. He sees a familiar version of his son that had been absent for too long.

“I think it’s evident in the people that I speak with that he’s a different person,” Jim Jurkovec said. “He’s happier, he’s more content. He’s at peace with where he is and who he is.”


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