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Hear From The Players: What Phil Jurkovec, Zion Johnson and Marcus Valdez Had To Say at ACC Kickoff

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NCAA Football: ACC Kickoff Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Today was ACC Media Day, and Boston College sent a number of players down to meet the media. Here’s what Phil Jurkovec, Zion Johnson and Marcus Valdez had to say. Transcript courtesy of BC Athletcs.

PHIL JURKOVEC

Q. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, what can you say about what he’s done with this offense, how you kind of describe his leadership and the plan that he’s putting forward?

PHIL JURKOVEC: Coach Cignetti has been great. He’s had so much experience in both college and the NFL. What he brings to us is NFL scheme, really an NFL style, which I think makes us a little bit different than every other team in the ACC.

With that comes a learning process, so that’s taken some time for us. But now that we’re in year two, he’s really guiding us, and we’re feeling a lot more comfortable with it.

Q. You have one of the more dynamic play-makers in the country on the outside in Zay Flowers. Can you talk about how your relationship continues to blossom, what your expectations are for you guys this year?

PHIL JURKOVEC: Yeah, Zay has been my locker room mate since I came to BC. I’ve known him from the start. Just being able to talk to him every day, he’s driven and just such an exceptional talent. I’ve really never seen somebody be able to stop on a dime like he does, how fast and explosive at the same time.

He’s so impressive.

Q. Hunter Long made a lot of clutch catches for you. He’s gone on to the next level. You said you have Zay coming back, Jaelen coming back. Talk about the receivers you have, the options you have in this wide-open passing game, and what the extra year of preparation will mean to building the chemistry?

PHIL JURKOVEC: We have so many weapons. Kobay White didn’t play last year, but he was the most productive receiver for BC the years prior. We have him back, CJ Lewis, Jaelen Gill, Zay Flowers. We have transfers, Trae Barry from Jacksonville State and Alec Sinkfield from West Virginia to go along with our other running backs.

I don’t know. We just have so many options. I know everybody’s going to want to ball, but it’s going to be fun just to see the different personnel groupings we can go with, just all the different options that we have.

Q. Take us into the mind of a quarterback. You had five interceptions last year. How do you process an interception? What do you do with it? How do you move on?

PHIL JURKOVEC: Really have to start with the coaches. Coach Cignetti and Coach Hafley, I remember a threw a terrible pick just into double coverage against Duke first game. I come off, and Coach Hafley just like, Hey, forget about it. On to the next one.

That’s kind of their view on it. Like we’re just going to let it loose and go out there and play, have fun, play free, don’t be worried about making mistakes, don’t be afraid to lose. That’s the mindset that we try to keep.

Q. You played behind a couple of great offensive lines at Notre Dame, now Boston College. What have you noticed at those two spots? More of the coaches there or more of the intangibles with the players and the coaches on the recruiting trail?

PHIL JURKOVEC: The O-line, they’re kind of like a cult on the team the way they stick together, but it’s awesome. They’re so tight. You can tell they care so much about each other. It’s a little different position than anywhere else because of how you have to work together.

But the O-linemen, I love ‘em. They’re really close at BC. They’re all veterans. I mean, Zion up here. To go along with the four other guys, they’re all veterans. They’re nasty guys (smiling). I’m just excited to see what they can do now that it’s year two under this new scheme.

ZION JOHNSON

Q. You just heard Coach speak about the team, the situation, going through the pandemic year. What was the craziest part for you to go through this past year? What was cardboard — how did you take the cardboard fans? What are you looking forward to the most?

ZION JOHNSON: I mean, I would have to say for me, my family usually goes to every game. I mean, they did in 2019. With the pandemic, last season, they weren’t really able to go to as many games, we had the cardboard fans. That can actually affect you.

But I also think that our team did a great job of handling that and making the sacrifices necessary to go out and win when we needed to.

Even with the cardboard fans, I think our guys did a great job of sparking that inner fire to go out and play to their maximum potential, so...

Q. In your practices with Phil behind you, what is it like blocking for him? What is the dynamic nature of Phil being a leader? How well do you guys jibe with each other?

ZION JOHNSON: It’s awesome. Phil is a great leader, a great player. He’s talented. He’s a great guy. It’s really awesome blocking for someone you know, even if everything is not perfect, he can scramble out the pocket, make something work, throw a bomb down the field.

Especially as a leader, he’s grown as a leader. Just coming here last year. Now he’s a big voice in our locker room. We love having him.

Q. Your offensive line has 126 aggregate starts. You went through some unusual situations in the pandemic. Last year Phil was under heat a little bit. How will the extra experience help you keep this guy over here standing up?

ZION JOHNSON: Oh, the experience will definitely help us. I think last season with the new offense, the new scheme, we weren’t really masters of our scheme yet. We’re still learning. We had guys moving positions.

But this season we’re ready to come out and keep Phil upright and we’re going to make sure that we do that. Alec, this next year, he’s gotten so much better through the spring in every aspect. Ben has been doing a great job. Christian Mahogany, he’s a young guard, he’s doing a great job as well. Let’s not forget Tyler. He’s been doing a great job, getting better as a run blocker, as a pass blocker, as a leader. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve seen.

A lot of our guys up front, whether it’s Christian, Alec, Ben, Tyler, even some of the young guys, are becoming better leaders not just to themselves but to other people on the team. They’re leading other leaders. That’s what we need in order for us to take that next step next year.

MARCUS VALDEZ

Q. What does coach’s NFL experience help this team?

MARCUS VALDEZ: I think it goes a long way, just from the tape we watch. I mean, even with my position coach, Coach Oghobaase, we’re always watching NFL tape. It really shows you the techniques they’re teaching us are taught at the next level. There’s more buy-in from players. We know what they saw and what they’re teaching was huge at the next level. I think it goes a long way.

Plus he has so much experience from the next level, the kind of defensive running is really different from what other colleges run. I think it’s excellent.

Q. Last year Boston College forced 21 turnovers, I think 6th against the run, 10th in pass defense efficiency. As a unit, what are your goals this year defensively? What do you feel like you need to improve defensively this year?

MARCUS VALDEZ: I think we need to improve on taking the ball away. Also we had a couple good games that we took the ball away three or four times. That’s great, but it has to be every game.

We really put an emphasis on that during practice. We’re always doing takeaway circuits for each position. The secondary, linebackers and D-line, whoever gets the most takeaways at practice gets to wear black shirts at practice. Kind of incentive there to take the ball away.

I think we need to improve on, like Coach Haf said, getting off the field on third down, personally rushing the quarterback. We got to get there and get the quarterback on the ground, so...

Q. Can you talk about the player protection rules and how that’s affected the defense maybe the last couple years, things like targeting. I’ve seen a couple of instances last year of calls that were made. Talk about how those player safety rules have affected your defense.

MARCUS VALDEZ: Yeah, I mean, we’re always teaching how to tackle, how to tackle properly, not targeting for the head and stuff like that. So, I mean, we’re always working on tackling correctly. I mean, it’s something we work on.

It’s obviously affected the game a lot with people getting out and being suspended and stuff like that. We’re very aware by that. We probably had a couple people affected by it.

We’re always teaching how to tackle safely and following the rules. I think it’s good for the game, so...

Q. How would you describe on and off the field your head coach?

MARCUS VALDEZ: I really feel like he’s the same guy on and off the field. He’s always going to keep it real with you, tell you the truth. He’s always going to motivate you. I love what Coach Haf preaches: tough love, compete, being for the team.

There’s always sacrificing towards a bigger goal. Always good to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Really that belief. He’s really instilled confidence and belief in everyone. I think that’s gone a long way and it will show up this season, so...

Q. You talk about being bigger than yourself. BC is very involved with Team Impact in the Boston area. Speak to your experiences with Team Impact.

MARCUS VALDEZ: Yeah, so recently we just had a kid join us. It was amazing. The whole team showed out. You don’t have to come, but everybody came. It was really overwhelming for him. He loved it. He comes around a lot. We were working with him on the field before, quarterback Dennis was throwing to him, Phil was throwing with him, too. It was really good.

I think it’s for a really good cause. It goes a long way for him and for his family, and even for us, too.

Q. You used the word ‘overwhelming’. Why was it overwhelming?

MARCUS VALDEZ: Just to see his expression. I don’t think he was expecting that. I think he was expecting a little smaller get-together. Really the whole team showed up. We have great guys on the team. Everybody showed out and showed him love. He really felt part of the team.