During my time at BC, the four football players I have found most fascinating from a purely symbolic perspective have been Mark Herzlich, Montel Harris, Luke Kuechly and Dave Shinskie. I know it may seem strange to see those four names next to each other, but here's how I look at it:
- Mark Herzlich was the star linebacker who inspired not just BC, but all of America by overcoming cancer in 2009 and returning to the field in 2010. The ultimate symbol of hope.
- Montel Harris came out of nowhere to become the face of the program, only to be derailed by injury and eventually kicked off the team for reasons never made completely clear to the public. The ultimate symbol of wasted talent and opportunity during the catastrophic Frank Spaziani era.
- Luke Kuechly stepped up as a true freshman in 2009 to replace Mark Herzlich, played completely out of his mind from day one and was the undisputed best linebacker in the country by the time he finished his career on the Heights and became a top-10 NFL draft pick. The ultimate symbol of what every BC football player has the potential to be.
- Dave Shinskie was thrown right into the lion's den and took the biggest share of the blame for the Eagles' struggles in 2009 and 2010. Yet during the two years since he's started at quarterback, the team has gotten worse and worse. The ultimate symbol of misplaced blame and incompetent management that characterized the Frank Spaziani era.
For those who don't know, Shinskie came to the Heights as a 25-year-old freshman who'd spent 6 seasons playing minor league baseball after his high school graduation. BC's starting quarterback from 2008, Dominique Davis, had transferred due to academic issues, which left a huge void at the quarterback position for the 2009 position.
Shinskie eventually won the job, but he never seemed to find his groove. The team went 8-5 that season, yet after both Shinskie and the team struggled in September of the next year, Shinskie was benched in favor of Chase Rettig. While at the time many SuperFans saw Shinskie as the problem and Rettig as the solution, the team's records of 4-8 and 2-10 in the past two seasons, respectively, have obviously proven that the issues ran much, much deeper.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Shinskie and talk about his time at BC. I saw a lot of parallels between his football career and what it will be like for many of his fellow members of this year's graduating class heading out into the vicious, unforgiving, post-grad "real world." Here are seven things he said that struck a chord with me as particularly enlightening or symbolic:
7) “I didn’t have a Matt Ryan to look to. If I was told, ‘Hey, get in and watch some film,’ I might have had a little easier time and might still be the quarterback.”
One of my CSOM professors this past fall always told me that the single most important thing for a college graduate is to find a great first boss. A great opportunity is worth nothing if you don't have the mentor to teach you how to take advantage of it. So when Shinskie and I talked about what he wished he would have done differently as a freshman, this line jumped out at me. The value of a great role model is infinite.
6) “If I had taken the proper steps to be a better quarterback, I still would be the starting quarterback.”
Even though Shinskie was put into one of the most difficult and pressure-filled situations any college player could imagine - let alone after not playing for six years - he still took responsibility for losing the starting job. He didn't blame the coaches, the lack of other quarterbacks to learn from, his teammates or anyone else at all.
He also didn't attribute what happened to a lack of belief in his own abilities. It wasn't that he couldn't do it, it was that he didn't recognize how to do it until it was too late. Definitely an important lesson for anyone who goes off into the real world and gets smacked around by the first few months on the job.
5) “I told him what I told you. I said I was sorry to him. I said, ‘I’m not the guy to emulate.’ But I’m a good friend to you and I’ll always be there.”
When I asked Shinskie what he said to Chase Rettig after Rettig became the starting quarterback, this is what he told me. I was floored not just by his willingness to help the guy who essentially took his job, but his humility and self-awareness to acknowledge that he had made mistakes.
A more selfish or bitter person may have wanted Rettig to fail in hopes of reclaiming the starting spot, but Shinskie put the team first here.
4) “I don’t take it as anyone’s fault but mine.”
I asked Shinskie what it was like to watch the team go 4-8 and then 2-10 as a backup, when the team had gone 8-5 with him on the field. That line was his answer.
He honestly believes that if he had worked harder as a freshman and then as a rising sophomore, he would have improved to the point where he would still be the starting quarterback. And as a result, the continuity would have benefited the team. I don't know how realistic that opinion is, but I was still impressed by his refusal to blame any of his teammates or his coaches for the team's struggles.
3) “It’s a different place here. It’s its own community. You can probably say that about any college, but I’ve grown to love BC and everyone here. My buddies were here and I knew BC. I already went from the Minnesota Twins to the Blue Jays. I was already in the locker room with 200 guys I didn’t know in spring training. Then I moved to college. I didn’t want to be 28 somewhere, when there were 17-year-old kids coming in when I didn’t know anyone.”
After Chase Rettig became the starting quarterback, Shinskie decided not to transfer out of BC for a shot at playing somewhere else. I asked him why, and he told me that it was because of the personal connections he had made here within the BC community.
We hear all the time about the loyalty Boston College Eagles have to the institution and to their fellow Eagles and Shinskie forgoing the opportunity to play somewhere else in order to stay connected to BC is a perfect example of it.
2) “If there’s any case of someone needing to be a leader, Chase needs to take that role, which I think he can and will this year. It’s not just the football team that’s sick of losing, it’s the whole community. We want to see some wins. I think he’ll step up and I think the whole team will step up. It’s different around the locker room now and I think it’s for the better.”
Straight from the horse's mouth. The football team is as sick of losing as any SuperFan on this campus. The players know what they need - a leader - and who they need to step up into that role - their quarterback - Chase Rettig. It's reassuring to know that not only has the culture around the locker room changed, but that the team is really rallying around its quarterback.
1) “Whatever you choose is going to be right. You’re choosing it for a reason. It might be unconsciously, but you’re choosing it for a reason. And if you do choose it, you’re going to have to do your best. But you can always go back. When people say you can’t, that’s a lie. You can always do what you want to do.”
And herein lies the ultimate symbolism of Dave Shinskie. He has had to endure more criticism and obstacles than most college students have by a good mile. He tried to make it as a pro baseball player, didn't, and then turned to football. Football didn't work out, but it opened up the door for him to get an education and fulfill his ultimate goal of becoming a teacher and a coach one day.
Chances are, what most of us choose to do after graduation won't be what we spend our lives doing. Yet just because we make a choice that doesn't work out right away doesn't mean it won't lead us to bigger and better things. As long as you work hard and keep yourself focused on what you really want, no choice you make is wrong if you take everything you can from the opportunities it presents.
BONUS: “I just want to say thanks to you guys, and thanks to SuperFan nation. We haven’t had the best seasons and you guys stick with us and like I said it’s going to change someday. I’ll always be a Boston College fan.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Uncle Dave Shinskie!
Follow Robert Rossi on Twitter @RVRossi