There has been plenty of preseason praise, and rightly so, heaped on Boston College running back AJ Dillon.
In many ways a transformative recruit for the Eagles, the sophomore has helped skyrocket expectations for the 2018 season. But, it should not go without notice that coach Steve Addazio's eye for talent along the offensive line laid the foundation for Dillon's past and future success.
And Dillon will be the first to tell you that.
"It's awesome. Running backs and O-line are kind of like hand-in-hand," Dillon said. "Those are like my best friends. They're a tremendous group of guys. Those guys are great people and great people to be around. I have tons of confidence knowing that we have great talent, obviously, great leadership, and I know what I'm going to get out of them on a day-to-day basis."
The unit had its growing pains, as players like Chris Lindstrom, Jon Baker, and Aaron Monteiro all saw significant time as true freshmen: Baker in 2014, and Lindstrom and Monteiro in 2015. Sam Schmal hopped in the act as a redshirt frosh in 2015.
But those fresh faces have aged well. The line comes into the season second in the nation in combined career starts with 139. Only Wisconsin, with 150, has more.
So even though Friday's first training camp practice did not include full pads, there wasn't any panic about catching up to speed.
"It's unbelievable," Lindstrom said. "We've been able to progress over these four years together, and we have such a relationship (with) each other, and an understanding of the offense, and of each other, and how we play. So the combination of those two things is leading to a lot of great things. And we had a pretty good first day, so we're just trying to build on top of that."
With perhaps Addazio's best skill-position stable since he took over at The Heights, Lindstrom and Co. take pride in the fact that players like Dillon are enjoying the national spotlight.
"Their success leads to our success and vice versa, and our success is helping him, as well," Lindstrom said. "So when you're seeing him succeed or break out into long runs, all you want to do is help push it and get an extra two or three, and then there's just a positivity in the whole offense and then the receivers are making plays and everything else, and the whole energy in the offense is just great."
That energy is something that radiates off Lindstrom when he talks about how his teammates respond to each other.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "We've got a lot of veteran guys and we're all experienced. And the chemistry of our team is unlike probably anywhere else in the country. We absolutely love each other, every position, so we're really excited."
But at a place with such a storied tradition up front, that excitement is a little more enhanced with a breakaway back like Dillon. When the Eagles exploded for 45 points in their win over Louisville, it was Dillon's 75-yard touchdown run that caught everyone's attention. Although it came via a bodyslam of a stiff-arm from Dillon to produce the run, the whole line enjoyed the gratification.
"Yeah, it was justification for all the work that we put in because we work so hard at this program every day in practice, every day in the meetings, offseason," Lindstrom said. "That was a big justification of our work, saying, 'OK, if we just cut out our mistakes and just do our job, go 100 miles an hour, we're going to have success.' It, almost in a way, set up a model of what we were going to do at the end of last season and what we look to do in the future."
That future, in part, is embodied in Ben Petrula, who stepped in at center as a true freshman when Baker went down with an injury in last year's season opener against Northern Illinois.
"Jon and I worked with him at Wake (Forest) after NIU, trying to get him to snap and stuff, but he took it and rolled with it and did an unbelievable job last year, and then took another step this summer at getting better at both center and tackle," Lindstrom said.
Petrula's quick ascension isn't all that different than his other linemates, and Lindstrom has been impressed with the sophomore's ability to pick things up on the fly.
"Absolutely. I mean, Ben's unbelievable," Lindstrom said. "It's not even like trying to, it's trying to guide him or tell him whatever tips because he's so proactive in trying to learn more and trying to be great. So you try to just help him as much as you can, but he does a great job of trying to get better himself."
But overall, with all the young talent this offense has, the most experience lies up front, and the players there set the tone.
"We've been installing all summer, and it's a great feeling of the offense, and being all the older guys we're helping out on the field," Lindstrom said. "So if a guy misses a rep or needs a coaching point, guys are there, not just myself, but Jon. I mean, really everyone that has any experience, and guys who even don't, they know what to do and they're coaching each other. And it's really a great environment to be a part of, especially on the offensive line."