On June 20, 2013, Boston College football coach Steve Addazio posted seven videos on Vine. Each of the short clips was centered around the idea of being a “dude,” a term the new coach had recently embraced and the program’s marketing department ran with. Before long, the “be a dude” slogan became synonymous with Addazio’s endeavor to change the culture at BC.
Six of the videos on the now-defunct social media platform featured Addazio standing in front of pictures of BC alums who went on to the NFL—players like Matt Ryan, B.J. Raji and Luke Kuechly—and describing them as “dudes.” But it’s the one other post, in which Addazio is filmed from the stands of BC’s Alumni Stadium as a summer practice takes place on the field below, that rose to viral fame and best encapsulates the aura of the coach who has the 2018 Eagles ranked No. 17 in the latest AP poll, their highest ranking since Ryan’s senior season 11 years ago. In the three-second video, titled “Camp,” Addazio asks a rhetorical question. “What’s better than this? Guys being dudes,” he says. It’s been looped over 31 million times.
When Addazio was hired to replace Frank Spaziani following a 2012 season that saw Boston College post its worst record (2–10) since 1978, he knew his first priority had to be improving the Eagles’ efforts in recruiting. The Vine posts were part of an effort to use social media to modernize their approach in that department, Addazio told reporters after an event at Fenway Park two days before the posting spree. That was also when the new head coach elaborated on the expression, crediting it to then-defensive coordinator Don Brown (who now helms the nation’s best defense at Michigan).
"That's his saying all the time, be a dude," Addazio said. "And what being a dude is is being a baller. You know? Just being a real baller. Just being a dude.”
The viral Vine was just the beginning. The team’s official Twitter account began liberally using the hashtag #BeADude. Promotional videos—like this absurd one before the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl—revolved around the word dude. Inside the locker room, it was a rallying cry. It’s no longer used by BC’s social media accounts, but it remains a major part of the team’s national identity.
This season, Addazio has more dudes than he’s ever had. After finishing 7–6 in four of Addazio’s first five years, BC has seven wins this season with at least four games left to play. The program is heading into its biggest game in over a decade, a showdown with No. 2 Clemson that could decide who wins the ACC Atlantic. ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Chestnut Hill for the game. It took time, but Addazio’s slow build has returned the Eagles to contention.
Back in 2013, Addazio looked like a miracle worker. He came to Boston College with just two years of head coaching experience under his belt (13–11 in two seasons at Temple), and immediately restored energy and hope to a program that had just seen a 12-season streak of winning records snapped with two straight down years. “Guys being dudes” blossomed into an internet meme because of its corniness and Addazio’s classic New England dad look, but the Connecticut native quickly proved he had more to offer than recruiting gimmicks. He implemented a run-first offense that led to senior Andre Williams rushing for 2,177 yards, oversaw a five-win jump from the prior season and signed a 2014 class that was BC’s best in three years (all recruiting data is from 247Sports’s composite rankings).
Addazio won seven more games in his second season—upsetting No. 9 USC and coming up just short against Clemson and No. 1 Florida State—then ran into a rebuilding year. The Eagles had one of the best defenses in the country in 2015, yet went 1–9 against FBS opponents because their offense could only muster 10.6 points per game. 2016 featured similar offensive ineptitude, although a weak schedule helped BC get back to seven wins (including the program’s first post-Ryan bowl win).
A 2–4 start to 2017 was more of the same: a great defense betrayed by a nonexistent offense. BC fans all over the internet were calling for Addazio’s firing. Then, halfway through the season, the Eagles turned AJ Dillon loose and everything changed. The bruising running back converted 39 carries into 272 yards and four touchdowns in a high-scoring win over Lamar Jackson and Louisville, then averaged 29 carries for 164 yards over the final six games of his true freshman season. BC went 5–2 down the stretch, surpassing 35 points in all five victories.
For all of his efforts on social media (this 2017 adaptation of the Salt Bae meme is a classic), Addazio was never going to turn BC into a destination for elite recruits. A small Catholic private school in New England is always going to be at a disadvantage against the likes of Clemson when it comes to recruiting. Other than his 10th-ranked class in 2014, Addazio’s BC classes have ranked 14th out of 14 in the ACC every year other than 2017, when he narrowly beat out Wake Forest for second-to-last. Where Addazio has thrived has been in finding underrated three-star recruits and turning them into all-conference performers.
This year’s team is 4–1 in league play with wins over Miami, Virginia Tech and Louisville—schools that perennially rank in the top half of the ACC in recruiting—thanks to the deep, talented roster that Addazio and his staff have built, recruiting stars be damned. Dillon has remained the offense’s best weapon in his sophomore year; he’s second in the ACC with 897 rushing yards despite missing two games (he’s questionable for the Clemson game but the Eagles are optimistic he’ll play). Quarterback Anthony Brown is another sophomore who has been an effective game manager outside of a five-touchdown explosion against Wake Forest and a four-pick meltdown at Purdue. Brown and Dillon were three-star recruits; tight end Tommy Sweeney, who leads the team in receptions, was an unranked two-star prospect.
The strength of this BC team, similar to the last four that came before it, is its defense. It’s a unit that ranks 28th in S&P+ and is filled with playmakers at all three levels. Between defensive ends Wyatt Ray (nine sacks) and Zach Allen (12.5 TFLs, projected first-round pick) and linebackers Connor Strachan and Isaiah McDuffie, the Eagles’ front seven is menacing. The secondary is led by preseason All-American safety Lukas Denis and a pair of impressive former two-star recruits at cornerback. The rate at which BC has turned two-and-three-star recruits into NFL defenders—Harold Landry, John Johnson III, Matt Milano; Kuechly and Raji if you look further back—is remarkable.
Having sustained moderate success, the outlook in recruiting may be trending in the same direction the team is. The 2018 class was headlined by offensive lineman Finn Dirstine, the first four-star recruit to choose BC in the Addazio era. The Eagles got a commitment from 2019 four-star linebacker Tommy Eichenberg in June and are hoping he isn’t swayed by late offers from Ohio State and Michigan. Behind Eichenberg and a host of high-three stars, Addazio’s 2019 class is currently ranked eighth in the ACC. What could the future look like if a coach who has proven he can develop anyone starts to consistently land a four-star recruit or two every year?
For now, BC is only concerned with this Saturday. Clemson comes to town for the marquee game of the Week 11 slate averaging 60 points over its past four contests and sporting the second-best defense in the country, per S&P+. It will be a monumental challenge for BC on both sides of the ball, especially with Dillon banged up. If the Eagles can find a way to shock the world under the national spotlight, they’ll technically still be alive in the College Football Playoff race.
Even in the likely event of a Clemson victory, the sky won’t be falling. A nine-win regular season and high-caliber bowl game will still be well within reach. Brown, Dillon and No. 1 wideout Kobay White will be back next season, and there’s plenty of depth with which to reload the defense. Regardless of what happens on Saturday night, there’s no denying that Addazio has Boston College ascending and relevant in the national conversation once again.
What’s better than that?