On Dec. 8, Boston College’s football team held its annual Senior Banquet to hand out awards to some of the players in their final season in the program. Among the honorees that night was senior fullback Colton Cardinal. The former Franklin standout arrived at BC as a preferred walk-on at linebacker and lasted four years with the Eagles as a fullback and as a regular on special teams.
Cardinal was honored with the Loyalty Award, which is given each year, according to the BC website, “to the individual who possesses an unwavering amount of support and allegiance to a long-term commitment.”
“That was kind of special,” said Cardinal following the team’s a mid-week practice. “It kind of took me by surprise but I was really happy.
He added, “Not really having anyone behind me and believing in me except the locals in Franklin and being able to solidify myself as a player on special teams and a little bit on offense. Then to have my coaches and teammates honor me with the Loyalty Award meant the world to me. It was the highlight of my four years here.”
Commitment has never been a problem for Cardinal, who had offers to play at lower levels and probably could have walked into a team and become a starter at linebacker. Instead, he chose to play Div. I at BC and stuck it out through position changes and limited playing time.
The day after Christmas, Cardinal will wrap up his career with Eagles when they take on Boise State in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl at the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It was this type of opportunity that Cardinal wanted when he chose to play in Chestnut Hill.
“It definitely wasn’t easy coming in as a preferred walk-on,” he admitted. In fact, Cardinal said that of the preferred walk-ons that started his freshman year only John Fadule of Wellesley is still part of the team. “It was definitely hard watching former players now living the normal student life and having the extra time for classwork and friends and going out, so it’s a lot of sacrifices but with one more game left and heading to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, it’s worked out.”
As a senior with the Panthers, Cardinal was considered one of the top linebackers in the Hockomock League. He started all but one game during his four years at Franklin. He was being recruited by several schools, including BC, who sent defensive coordinator Don Brown (who is now the DC at Michigan and is the father of current Franklin baseball coach Zach Brown) to meet Cardinal, his family, and then Franklin coach Brad Sidwell.
It is pretty common for players in Massachusetts to aspire to be on the Eagles and Cardinal was no different. Alumni Stadium is about 15 minutes from his father’s work and he has been to the stadium a number of times. The problem was that BC also recruited a number of other linebackers (Cardinal remembers more than a dozen linebackers on the team his freshman season), so to get on the field he needed to find a different niche.
“I thought that I’d come here and earn my spot at BC and that’s what I did,” he explained. Cardinal switched to fullback early in his freshman season and his physicality impressed the coaches, who added him to special teams. He said, “That’s kind of where I found my home playing here.”
He got into a game his freshman year against Howard at linebacker and then at the end of the year he played special teams against Syracuse.
“Maybe I’m not 100 percent sure on what I’m going to do, but I’m going to do it as fast as I can, “he said of his mindset on the field. “I think they noticed that and [tight ends] Coach [Frank] Leonard took a liking to me and embraced me into the tight end room and that’s been the biggest blessing since I’ve been to BC was the guys in the room helping me out.”
Even though he found his niche on the team, it was still a big transition from being a star player to one only seeing action occasionally. Cardinal reflected, “I started every game but the first one in four years and high school and then to come here and watch from the sideline was tough.”
When asked why he wanted to stick it out on the team, with all of the time and the effort that entails, over the course of a four-year career, Cardinal replied, “Pride for myself and pride for representing my family, the Franklin community, the Hockomock community, and Massachusetts as a whole really. Coming to Boston College and being a Massachusetts guy means a lot to us.
“Playing at BC gives you an extra bit of motivation because you’re representing something a lot bigger than yourself, which is fun. It’s even fun on Wednesday mornings, you know, when you’ve got full-pad scrimmage during finals week. It’s still a blast and I still love it every day.”
Of course running out onto the field at Alumni Stadium against highly-ranked Clemson for a game that had all of the eyes of the college football world on it, including ESPN’s College Gameday set, was a pretty good reward for having stuck it out over four years.
He laughed and said, “I’ll never forget Game Day versus Clemson running out, nighttime, fireworks, lights are going off, it’s cold, it’s Massachusetts football…I’ll never forget that. It’s been truly awesome.”
Cardinal and the Eagles will wrap up the season in a bowl game against a nationally-ranked team. He said that friends and family are planning on going to Dallas to watch his final collegiate game. When he signed on to play at BC, this was the type of stage he expected to play on and this is the ideal way to close out his career.
“We talk about that a lot…to be able to come back 10, 15 years later with your head held high and know that maybe I didn’t have the biggest role on the team, but I played a part in history at Boston College football.”