obay White knew it would be hard to leave Boston College.
Since making his collegiate debut in 2017, the Harrisburg, Pa. native has recorded 96 receptions, 10 touchdowns, and 1,409 yards—the 19th-most in Eagles history. As a redshirt sophomore, White became the first BC wide receiver to eclipse the 500-yard receiving mark in a single season since Alex Amidon in 2013.
But with one year of eligibility left and his head coach gone, the wideout also knew that he owed himself the opportunity to survey his options.
White entered the transfer portal, a non-binding commitment that allows players to publicly display their desire to scope out other programs, on Jan. 4. Not too long after that, he received a phone call from Jeff Hafley.
Hafley asked why the wideout put his name in the portal. White explained, citing his discussions with his family as well as his mindset going into his final season of college football. Hafley, who White said was “amazing throughout the process,” respected the wide receiver’s decision, and White began the second recruiting cycle of his playing career.
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At the moment, though, he wasn’t leaving Chestnut Hill. White always planned on graduating in May, so he returned to campus to complete his spring semester of course work. While he was in the portal, he didn’t want to attend team meetings, because—as he told reporters on Thursday—he couldn’t be “half in and half out.” Once again, however, he got a call from the Eagles’ new head coach.
It was White’s first day of classes, and Hafley had a proposal. He told White that if he wanted to hear what he had to say at the first team meeting, the wideout would be more than welcome to swing by and would always have a spot on the team.
“That kind of hit me,” White said.
White went to the meeting and watched as all of the new coaches introduced themselves. After he got out of the meeting, he made a call of his own. He told his dad that he had a hard time seeing himself with another program, but they agreed that it’d be best to wait a week before making anything final. Meanwhile, all of the program interest and speculation that once made recruitment “cool” in high school was now a source of agitation for the 22-year-old.
“At the end of the day, I had a bunch of people telling me to just follow your heart, and my heart was screaming BC,” White said. “I didn’t think there was any way I could leave.”
Coming off a 29-reception, 460-yard, five-touchdown season, the wide receiver withdrew from the transfer portal on Jan. 22.
White’s decision was partly motivated by the hiring of former wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell as the Eagles’ running backs coach. After all, the two go way back—Gunnell first contacted White when he was a graduate assistant at BC and the three-star recruit was a sophomore at Bishop McDevitt High School. Not only had White established relationships with Gunnell and several players, but he also had “unfinished business,” just like his best friend Max Richardson, who announced his return five days earlier.
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ather than entering the 2020 NFL Draft, Richardson made the choice to come back to the Heights for his fifth and final year of eligibility. And he did so with something to prove.
During Richardson’s four years at BC, the Eagles have made four bowl appearances, cracked the AP Poll for the first time since 2008, and hosted College GameDay. All the while, though, the Eagles haven’t eclipsed the seven-win mark. In fact, BC is still in search of its first eight-win campaign since 2009.
“[What] we wanted to do is bring a different light upon Boston College’s football program,” Richardson said. “And that’s something that we feel is unfinished business, and that’s something we feel we can accomplish here.”
Richardson racked up 107 tackles in 2019, tied with Ty Schwab (2017) for the most by a BC player since Steele Devitto totaled 112 in 2013. His 72 solo tackles were good for the eighth most in the country, and his 14.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks were both team highs. Alongside John Lamot, Richardson was one of the few bright spots on an Eagles defense that reset the single-game program record for yards allowed twice and gave up the most per game in single-season school history.
Yet Richardson, the unit’s leader, couldn’t suit up when his team needed him most. For the first time in 25 games, the defensive stalwart was sidelined with an injury, forcing him to miss the Birmingham Bowl. With a bum hamstring, Richardson watched as Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder tore apart the BC defense. The No. 23 Bearcats rushed for 343 yards and routed the Eagles, 38-6. BC finished the year with the sixth-worst total defense—478.7 yards per game allowed—in the nation, a far cry from its top-ranked unit in 2015 (254 yards per game allowed).
“I didn’t want to leave Boston College in that fashion,” Richardson said. “It’s never easy watching from the sidelines—if you’re a competitive player, you want to play all the time—and I feel like that was something that hurt me a little bit.”
Richardson is back, and so are Lamot and fellow linebacker Isaiah McDuffie, who missed nine games in 2019 while recovering from offseason knee injury but was second on the team in tackles as a sophomore in 2018. Although the linebacking corps will largely be the same, the coaching staff is vastly different, and Richardson said that change is a breath of fresh air.
Just like Zach Allen and Harold Landry, Richardson is the latest BC defensive playmaker to postpone his NFL career for one last ride in Chestnut Hill. The All-ACC Second Teamer’s return is predicated on a desire to lead BC back to its winning ways, as well as his affinity for the school that he’s grown to call home and the teammates he considers family.
“I’ve fallen in love with Boston College,” Richardson said. “So at the end of the day, it was a decision that I made because of the relationships I had here and wanted to continue those relationships for another season.”
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unter Long didn’t have to think too hard about coming back to BC for the 2020 season.
The tight end tweeted his return video on Jan. 8, with the caption, “I’ll be back next year to write the next chapter #year3.” But the video was designed to generate excitement more than anything—Long says that he pretty much always knew he’d return as a redshirt junior.
After being named to the John Mackey Award watch list in the summer, Long led BC in receiving this past year with 509 yards. Even though he only found the end zone twice, he hauled in 28 catches, the second-most on the team.
Long filled Tommy Sweeney’s shoes as the Eagles’ go-to guy in a crowded tight end room, and he saw his numbers climb in 2019. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Long has had a few conversations with new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., and he expects the system to be more balanced than in years past. Couple a scheme change with the fact that Jake Burt, Korab Idrizi, and Chris Garrison are all graduating, and Long will likely see his targets significantly increase in the fall.
The personal accolades are one thing, but 2020 is about so much more for the tight end.
“It’s definitely a redemption year for a lot of us,” Long said. “Obviously last year, and even the year before that, wasn’t what we wanted. But this year, we’re trying to do things differently from our end—workout wise, putting in more work, and hopefully it shows this season.”
White, Richardson, and Long showed reporters on Thursday how they’ve bought into Hafley and his staff, just three weeks into a new era of BC football. They’re not playing around—they understand what it means to “Get In.”
“What Coach Hafley has told us is that all the guys who are getting in will be a part of something great,” Richardson said, “and that those who are not in, we hope that you’re on the other side of our schedule, so that we can show you what we’re made of.”
Photos by Kait Devir / Heights Staff, Celine Lim / Heights Senior Staff, and Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff
Featured Graphic by Andy Backstrom / Heights Senior Staff