August 30, 2007

Drafted to offense

James McCluskey had heard the rumblings even before most of the old coaching staff left for North Carolinia State. And the one-time linebacker's own eyes could look across the line of scrimmage and see it.

The Boston College football program was in need of fullbacks and, with him being a 6-foot-2, 240 pound athlete with decent speed, McCluskey knew he was a prime candidate to be drafted to the offense.

"And I was like 'Uh-oh,'" said McCluskey with a laugh. "When (Mark) Palmer graduated, there was no one left at fullback. They said that linebackers were the fullback type. No names were mentioned, but in the back of my mind I thought I might be asked. But after I slept on it, I thought it wouldn't be that bad, especially if I got a chance to step onto the field."

But the call didn't come until a few months later. And when it came, the blow was softened by the fact that the position itself was transformed from being mostly a blocking back in the old offensive system to being more multi-dimensional in the new offense under head coach Jeff Jagodzinski and offensive coordinator Steve Logan.

"It was really sudden," said the redshirt freshman. "It was during spring practices. Coach Jags called me into the huddle and first he explained the offense and what the fullback was going to do - catch passes, be a blocker, do a lot of things - and that he was going to try me out there. It's giving me a chance to step out onto the field and contribute to the team."

Still, old linebackers die hard.

McCluskey came to the Heights as a linebacker and still thought of himself as one. And for good reason. As a star at Billerica Memorial High School, McCluskey was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Gridiron Club of Massachusetts for making over a 100 tackles - 18 for loss - in leading the Indians to the Merrimack Valley Conference championship. He was a three-time MVC all-star and shared conference MVP honors his senior year.

"I watch the linebackers and the defense in practice and how they get real excited when a big play happens and I miss that," said McCluskey. "All last year, I pictured myself being out there making plays, making tackles. But now it's just a different side of the ball."

Moving to fullback also gives him a chance to get on the field right now, while it might have taken him a little longer to get out there.

"There are a lot of linebackers here and they're all great athletes," said McCluskey.

And it's not like the fullback position is totally foreign to him. In high school, McCluskey played fullback and rushed for 963 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior year.

But he said it's a whole different ballgame now.

"I was more of a running back (at Billerica), though I did do some blocking," said McCluskey. "But I would say it's just different playing in college, first of all, against these fast guys on defense. And in high school, I was the biggest kid in the league almost. But I'd say the blocking is the biggest change, making the reads and all that. Before, you would just kind of head in that direction and just block someone. But here the assignments are so much more dynamic and detailed. But I feel comfortable after working most of the spring and fall camp. I'm excited to try it out against a different colored jersey."

And after redshirting his true freshman season, he's ready to play football for real.

"I would still get emotionally into the game (last year), but it was just tough to sit back and watch. You just feel like you can't help the team at all," said McCluskey "Coach always says everyone, even redshirts, have a role on the team. But I'm excited to get on the field and help."

Speaking on Wednesday, McCluskey seemed barely able to contain his excitement for his first collegiate game, against none other than defending ACC champion Wake Forest. He'll have his mother, his grandparents and sister - and any other friends and relatives who can get there - in attendance at Alumni Stadium to watch it.

"Right now, I can't believe it's here," he said with a wide smile "It's felt like it's been a long summer, but now it's only a couple of days away. I'm excited - and a little nervous - but I'm sure once we bang some shoulder pads on the field, that nervousness will go away."

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