Oct. 5, 2005
Sophomore linebacker Brian Toal anticipates a big challenge this Saturday, when the Eagles host the Virginia Cavaliers at 1 p.m. As a true freshman last season, Toal finished second on the team with 77 tackles (37 solos). This season, in addition to starting at linebacker, the Wyckoff, N.J. native has seen action in short-yardage situations on offense, and has successfully converted 11 of 15 opportunities.
Q: What do you know about Virginia's football team, and what do you expect when you take the field at 1 p.m. on Saturday?
A: I know that they are a really good football team. Offensively, they are dangerous. They've got a quarterback [Marques Hagans] who is a great player, who can run around and make plays. He can also throw the ball over 55 yards. The closest thing we faced to him last year was the quarterback from North Carolina [Darian Durant]. It's going to be a challenge to stop him, and they match up with us very well. They have big offensive linemen, and they have the team speed of the ACC that everyone has been talking about. So, it's going to be a challenge for us.
Q: Coach Tom O'Brien spent 15 seasons as an assistant coach at Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s, and several other BC coaches spent time working for the Cavaliers. Knowing that your coaches have these personal ties to the school, does this game take on any added significance for the players?
A: We have to go out there and win every game. We have to win every game no matter what, regardless of who we are playing. I think that the coaches take a little extra interest in this game. This is probably a marked game on some of the coaches' calendars. It's not as big for the players, but I think that we definitely have something to prove when Virginia comes to town on Saturday.
Q: The Eagles' rushing defense is ranked second in the nation, and owns the fourth-best scoring defense in college football. What's the defense's mindset during each game, particularly when getting you're getting pushed back into your own territory.
A: The leaders on this defense really step up when they get close to scoring, toward the red zone or even across the 50-yard line. Guys like Mathias [Kiwanuka] will step up and say, `Listen, guys, this is the time when we have to step up.' We talked all of last week about not allowing them to score. Allowing under 17 points is a goal for us most of the time. We just try to keep the defense out of the end zone. I think that the older guys really step up when it comes down to the red zone or even close to the red zone.
Q: What have been some of the biggest adjustments you've made since last season?
A: I think the biggest thing has been learning the defense. I feel a lot more comfortable out there, and I know where I have to be a lot more this year than I did last year. Last year, I kind of went on my athletic abilities to make a lot of the plays. This year, I kind of understand what other teams are trying to do to me more.
Q: Having been a running back in high school at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., what has it been like to get back into the offense in short-yardage situations?
A: Obviously, playing running back in high school helped. I mean, it's still the same kind of thing because you have to see the hole and hit it. Now, I get the ball in big situations like a 3rd-and-1. I love playing running back, and it's a lot of fun. I really do enjoy it, and I'm just thankful for the opportunities that the coaches are giving me. I'm just trying to make the best of it.
Q: What is your mindset as you're lined up behind Quinton or Matt in the offensive backfield, staring straight ahead at the opponents' defense?
A: First of all, I have a lot of confidence in the offensive line that they are going to get a good push. Hopefully, they can get me the first yard, and I can get a couple yards after that. I just need to keep the ball moving. Sometimes, it's just me and the linebacker and the hole. Obviously, I play linebacker so it's a big challenge when I meet another linebacker in the hole. You obviously like to win the battle, especially considering I play defense and I'm a linebacker. It's a personal challenge.
Q: You were highly recruited out of high school and came to BC with huge expectations - from coaches, teammates and BC fans. Did you feel any pressure?
A: I felt a little bit of pressure last year, especially since I was new here and I didn't really know what to expect and how good I was going to be. You kind of doubt yourself until you get here, then you realize that maybe you can play here. Your confidence grows as things go on. That's the same thing playing running back here. When I first moved to running back, I wasn't sure if I could do it. I hadn't played there in a while and hadn't played against this kind of competition. But as games go on, your confidence builds, and that makes things easier for you.
Q: Having met or even exceeded many people's expectations last year, do you now feel like you've "settled in" and established yourself?
A: I have settled in and established myself, yet I have a lot of things to work on and parts of my game in which I can get better. I'm going to keep working on those things to meet any of those future expectations.
Q: Looking back at the game-winning touchdown in overtime at Clemson, what was it like to be able to end the game with a quick one-yard carry before a capacity crowd?
A: It was like a walk-off touchdown, if there is such a thing. It was just a great feeling. I really owe that to Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense and the offensive line that got me in a situation to win. The run was for about a yard or half a yard, pretty much. It just felt great to win our first ACC game - to have 79,000-plus people being dead quiet. It was weird when I got in the end zone, because usually when you score a touchdown and the game ends everyone is going nuts. But there, it was just completely silent except for our team and the few fans we had there. It was a weird feeling, but it felt really good.
Q: Last season you blocked a punt against Syracuse, resulting in a late first-half touchdown. In the season opener at Brigham Young, you got a hand on a 48-yard field goal attempt by Jared McLaughlin. What's it like to come up with the big play on special teams?
A: I actually love special teams. Some other guys look to get off the special teams' unit. I really enjoy it and it's something that I enjoyed doing in high school. I feel like a blocked punt is the best play in football. It really changes the momentum of the game no matter where you are at that point in the game. It really is a lot of fun, and I take great pride in playing special teams.
Q: You've played numerous roles in your 17 games at Boston College thus far - a kickoff return, the special teams blocks, three rushing touchdowns, a forced fumble, and countless tackles. Which single play or part of your game do you enjoy the most?
A: I really enjoy all of it. I love special teams, like I said before. Offense is a lot of fun. But I really like the whole thing. I can't really pick one part that I like more. It's all a lot of fun. I just enjoy the game of football.
Q: Certainly, you come from a football family. Your brother, Greg, was a four-year football letterman at BC (2000-03), and your father coaches at Don Bosco Prep. When did you begin playing football? How much of an advantage was it to have your father and older brother(s) to help you learn the game?
A: I started playing organized football in third grade. From third to eighth grade, I never actually lost a football game. And then I lost my first one my freshman year to a guy who is a running back at Virginia, Wali Lundy, who was then playing for Holy Cross High School. They had a last-second field goal to win by one in the varsity championship game. It wasn't fun losing to them. But having my brothers around and growing up watching football just made me a lot better. My dad and my brothers still give me pointers today. I think that it really made me a lot better and has helped me to understand the game a lot better, being the coach's son.
Q: What other sports or hobbies do you enjoy when you have some free time?
A: I used to play a little basketball. I won a national championship in basketball my freshman year of high school in an AAU league. But, I like to play video games, such as the NCAA college football game.
Later this week, the Athletics Department will feature field hockey captain Bronwen Kelly in another Q-and-A feature. As one of seven seniors on this year's No. 17 field hockey team, Kelly is a midfielder who hails from Mississauga, Ontario.
- interview conducted by senior Alex Timiraos