The Quiet Heart Of The Eagles
|11.12.09 at 8:41 pm ET|
Rich Gunnell is the quiet center at the heart of the 2009 Boston College Eagles. Elected as a captain by the team, he is a leader by example. Gunnell works hard, is studious in the film room and is a perfect leader for a young offense that at times has struggled to find its way.
He also is prolific with a football in his hands.
Gunnell is the active ACC career leader in receptions, reception yardage and touchdowns. His four years (five with a redshirt) on the field for the Eagles have given him a shot at becoming the career leader in yards and receptions at BC. Gunnell trails Pete Mitchell (1991-94) by 29 receptions and 236 yards for the all-time mark at The Heights, an accomplishment that surprises the soft-spoken receiver.
“I had no idea until Peter Mitchell was up here yesterday and Coach [Frank Spaziani] pulled me over and said, ‘This is the guy you are chasing for the records,’” Gunnell said. “I had no idea, I don’t pay too much attention to my stats and stuff.”
Gunnell will need to remain productive in the last three games if he is to catch Mitchell, especially in the receptions category. Though with freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie starting to round into an efficient passer, Gunnell has put up some of the best single-game marks of his career over the last two games. Against Notre Dame he put up a career-high 179 yards on 10 receptions and then followed up with 134 yards on eight catches against Central Michigan.
“Right now I feel like it has a lot to do with Dave,” Gunnell said. “He is starting to pick up more coverages, starting to realize what is open and what is not. I think he is being a lot smarter with the ball than he was earlier in the year.”
The production of the last two games nearly doubled the output Gunnell put up in the previous seven contests.
“Coach [Ryan] Day has been on me a lot these last few weeks that I need to elevate my game and take it to a new level because, you know, it is starting to hit me that things are counting down for me,” Gunnell said. “These are my last few games here as a Boston College football player here. I am just trying to take on a new level and try to improve every day.”
Gunnell’s teammates have great respect for the senior wide receiver. They are happy that the man they voted as one of their captains is starting to gain some recognition, even if Gunnell himself is not one to toot his own horn.
“I am happy he is getting what he deserves instead of people overlooking what he has been doing for such a long time,” free safety Wes Davis said. “There is no doubt that he is one of our leaders. He is our captain, we voted him a captain for a reason. Seeing him successful as somebody who has been around for such a long time, it is great seeing somebody get what they deserve, especially when it is in such a positive manner.”
The heir to Gunnell’s place as the top receiver, sophomore Colin Larmond Jr., has been walking in the senior’s footsteps ever since he took his official visit with Gunnell before committing to BC. Larmond knows his time is short with Gunnell and has taken on the role of sponge, trying to absorb everything about how Gunnell comports himself before his time in Chestnut Hill is over.
“He is not a guy to talk but he just leads with his actions,” Larmond said. “It was last year, the coaches were just, ‘Watch how this guy practices.’ Even before I committed here, when I took my official visit, it was with him. Just the way he takes his notes over opponents, the way he analyzes opponents, the way he watches the defense on film. Just all the little things that he does, I try to soak up as much as I can. He is a great receiver, and if he does all those things, I can do them to elevate my game.”
At the same time, neither Gunnell nor Larmond can quite fathom that the end is rapidly approaching. The focus for the entire Eagles squad this year has been one day, one week, one game turning into one season that they hope will have an ACC championship at the end. Yet come next spring, Larmond will find himself lining up without that familiar face that has been there since the beginning.
“I have to prepare for it. Coach Day spoke to me about it, he said, ‘You have to get ready.’ It hasn’t really hit me yet and probably won’t until the spring, when I look around and, like, ‘Where’s Rich?’” Larmond said.
Gunnell’s time in Chestnut Hill has not been the most peaceful era in the history of the BC football program. He was recruited by Tom O’Brien (now at NC State), then found his niche on the team when Jeff Jagodzinski took over the program. With Spaziani now at the helm, Gunnell has seen three head coaches in his five years with the team.
“It actually gave me a greater opportunity when coach O’Brien left because it gave me the opportunity to show some new coaches what I could do,” Gunnell said. “At the time I think I was fourth on the depth chart going into my redshirt sophomore year and the new coaches came in and I got a lot of playing time. I thought that was a good transition for me.”
While there have been three head coaches, there have been a plethora of quarterbacks. From Matt Ryan to Dominique Davis to Justin Tuggle and now Shinskie, Gunnell has seen just about every type of signal-caller that exists. He claims it has not been too frustrating even though the position has had three different primary starters since Ryan left for the Atlanta Falcons two years ago.
“It was not frustrating, I knew what I was getting into. I would have to make adjustments, the team was going to have to make adjustments and I just do my best to make plays,” Gunnell said.
Having a quarterback like Ryan around will make a lot of wide receivers look good. This fact is not lost on Gunnell.
“You really appreciate what he did a lot more now that he is gone,” Gunnell said. “You talk about other quarterbacks who have been here, but Matt was just on a different level, which is why he was drafted No. 3 overall. Being around Matt, he is a great guy, a great person and an even greater player. So, I learned a lot from him.”
It is a testament to Gunnell’s approach — head down when you are working, head up when someone is talking — that he is atop the ACC leaderboards despite the turmoil and transition that has been a part of his time at BC. In taking the high road, Gunnell said he appreciates the turnover, as it may be a help to him if there is a future in the NFL.
“I think it helped,” Gunnell said. “It is like that at the next level, coaches come and go but the players — well, the players will probably come and go also, but being here, the coaches have left, but the players have always stuck together and that is a big thing and we create chemistry with our teammates. We’ve had no choice. Like, I’ve been through three head coaches since I’ve been here.”
There is more than a fair chance that Gunnell will be playing on Sundays next year. He projects as a good possession receiver out of the slot with the capability of hitting the big play on occasion. He is smart and has good hands with the athletic ability to move the chains.
“Well, Rich is a playmaker,” Shinskie said. “It always seems that when the game is on the line we are calling a pass to him, he’s in the meat of the route. He is just a great route-runner and he is really smart.”
Yet if you ask Gunnell, he is not dwelling on his future at the next level quite yet.
“It has always been a dream of mine, it would be great to make it, it would be a great honor but, like I said, I am focusing on BC and trying to make it to the ACC Championship game and win it this year,” Gunnell said.
Even if a future in the NFL is not in the cards, Gunnell is confident that his time at BC has prepared him for a successful career.
“The biggest thing is education and whatnot,” Gunnell said. “I know a lot of other schools, they don’t take pride in their education, it is not something that they really focus on. I know by being here that education is a huge thing. BC just doesn’t recruit players, like any old players. You have to be great students, great person and also a great player.”
He graduated with a degree in communications in May and hopes to parlay that into some type of career in broadcasting, perhaps radio. In that vein, Gunnell interned at WEEI, helping Jon Meterparel and Steve “Chach” Ciaccio in the production department.
“It was a great experience, just hearing the guys talk over the radio, because that is something I definitely want to get into,” Gunnell said. “It was always weird to see how hectic it was or to see them freak out if someone had a story before them. Those are always funny, but I try not to laugh about them because it was kind of serious.”
“I was hoping to get into some type of sports broadcasting,” Gunnell added. “I want to stay around sports, it is something I have always wanted to do. I always wanted to be an ESPN analyst — talking about football or basketball or whatever. I have also thought about maybe coaching. I have been around football my entire life, so it is something I could do.”
First things first. Gunnell, as he continually points out, is aiming for that elusive ACC championship game. The Eagles will have to run the table, starting this week in Charlottesville, Va., and hope for a Clemson loss. For Gunnell, records are nice and the future is bright, but only one thing really matters.
“[The record] is a good thing, it is a great achievement in my career,” Gunnell said. “It would be a great honor to actually achieve those records, but the biggest honor for me would be to win an ACC Championship game. That is one thing I am shooting for.”