By Michael Muldoon
CHESTNUT HILL — Last year was painful for the Boston College football program.
It was doubly painful for a couple local stars.
Not only did Andover tight end Brian Miller and North Reading offensive lineman Bobby Vardaro have to endure a 2-10 season, the Eagles’ worst in 34 years, but they also had to play in pain.
Vardaro could have sat out after badly injuring his left shoulder in a midseason game with Army.
But he played the next seven games.
“I definitely could have had surgery then,” said Vardaro, who eventually had offseason surgery which caused him to miss spring practice.
“You have to play through it.”
Miller was plagued by muscle pulls and sprains.
Others might look at that as a negative.
He saw it as a positive, example of steady progress from the career-threatening knee injury he suffered against Lowell High on Nov. 12, 2010.
“They were nagging injuries but I did my best,” he said.
The Frank Spaziani era is mercifully over as the overmatched coach was let go shortly after the season ended.
Vardaro and Miller hope to put the team’s and their personal travails in the rearview mirror as well.
Miller’s rollercoaster ride
Miller showed in last season’s opener why at Andover High he was ranked the No. 9 tight end in the country by one scouting service and No. 30 by another.
Against Miami, he experienced some fabulous highs, a few lows and about everything in between.
He caught three passes for 38 yards and drew a pass interference in the end zone.
Simply put, the vaunted Hurricanes were having their problems containing Miller.
He also had a chance for a touchdown catch but couldn’t hold on. In his first real action in 22 months, it was a more than positive beginning.
But injuries and rust caught up to him.
After being in on 49 plays against the Hurricanes, he was limited to 74 plays and one more catch the rest of the season.
“It was my first game since I got hurt,” recalled Miller, who is now a redshirt sophomore.
“It’s not a feeling I can describe. It was a good feeling is all I can say. I didn’t know if I could play. You don’t know until you do it.”
He knows now. He hopes his teammates and the opposition know it soon as well.
The early signs are encouraging. In last Saturday’s scrimmage, he had the game’s lone score, a 25-yard catch. Eagleaction.com raved about a “tremendous catch” he made on a low throw in traffic earlier in the scrimmage.
He’s bulked up about five pounds to 241 and has been moved to wide receiver.
He may be the biggest wide receiver in the country.
“I’m indifferent,” he said of the change, which came in June. “Whatever the team needs me to do. It’s all the same plays but there are nuances. I’m still learning the ins and outs. I’d like to say I’ll be out there, but who knows?”
There should be opportunities. Outside of first-team All-ACC wide receiver Alex Amidon, BC doesn’t have a receiver back who averaged more than two catches a game.
Health, as always, will be paramount to his success.
“The (left) knee isn’t giving me any troubles,” he said optimistically at the team’s media day.
“I made it through spring ball with no problems. It’s been a long road getting back. Almost three years. It’s not in my head any more. It’s the best I’ve felt since the injury.”
The offseason included another surgery. But this one may have been less bitter than sweet.
“It was to take the hard wire out,” explained Miller, a marketing major with a 3.1 GPA, which earned him the Athletic Director’s Award for Academic Achievement.
“Surgery is never fun. It’s not fun when they cut you open, but it was a good surgery.”
Vardaro racks up the starts
Vardaro, a 6-5, 305-pound junior from Phillips Academy, is one of the team’s most experienced players. He’s entering his third year as the starting left guard. He’s as fired up as anybody to get back on the field after missing spring ball following the surgery.
“Missing spring was the hardest thing. It was hard doing kicksteps the entire practice and doing stuff with one arm in the weight room,” he said.
Despite his experience, he knows jobs are always on the line, especially because the team has struggled.
“I don’t think you are ever really comfortable,” said Vardaro, who hopes to graduate this spring then pursue an MBA as a fifth-year senior next year. “You’re fighting for your position all the time. The five best play.”
Vardaro likes to set individual goals for himself each game.
“Against Notre Dame, it was to put (national defensive player of the year) Manti Te’o in his place,” he said.
When you are a veteran starter at a school that has billed itself “O-Line U.” the losing stings. BC was 2-10 last fall and 4-8 in 2011. That’s a far cry from 1999-2010, a 12-year stretch where BC played in a bowl game every season.
“It’s cheesy, but I hate losing more than I love winning,” he said. “I’m more a competitor than a football player.
Rettig a big fan
Senior quarterback Chase Rettig is a fan of both local stars.
“Bobby is a great player with a really good work ethic and he’s really strong,” said the California native. “Obviously, you are going to have pain, some struggle and anguish. Bobby pushed through it and persevered. That’s a testament to his character and how much he cares about the team. He put his safety aside.”
Of Miller he said, “He’s a good player. He’s a bigger guy. He has good potential. He’s busting his tail. He made some plays for us last year. He can help us this year. He’s in the mix. Against Miami last year it was 3rd and 10 or 4th and 10 and he made a play in tight coverage. If he just keeps doing things like that he’ll be a trusted receiver.”
Out with old
BC has a new athletic director in Brad Bates, a new head coach in high-energy Steve Addazio from Temple, a new philosophy (Be a dude!) and an almost entirely new coaching staff.
Most everybody believes the widespread changes can only be a good thing.
“The energy was just gone,” said Vardaro of the forgettable 2012 campaign with aging lame duck head coach Frank Spaziani. “I can’t say we definitely needed a change, but I’m happy with it.”
Predictably, BC was chosen last in the ACC. That’s just fine with Vardaro.
“That’s the best,” he said. “Everybody will treat you like you’re nothing. Honestly, I think we’ll turn a lot of heads.”
Miller said, “I think all the coaches are awesome. I couldn’t be happier. They are teaching everybody how to push ourselves, give more ownership. It’s just the culture of the program. Everybody’s mindset is different. We’re 100 percent set on changing the program and bringing us back to where we used to be.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.