CHESTNUT HILL – Leadership, team dedication and a competitive spirit is what the folks at Boston College look for when they annually select the defensive back worthy of receiving the Jay McGillis Award. The honor is presented in the memory of McGillis, the Eagles’ safety who passed away in 1992 from leukemia.
This year’s recipient is senior Isaac “Ike” Yiadom, the former Doherty High standout who set many personal records this season while helping to lead Boston College to a 7-5 record and a berth in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Iowa at 5:15 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 27. The game will be played at Yankee Stadium.
“I was honored and humbled when I learned I was going to receive with the Jay McGillis Award,” Yiadom said. “I was honored because the DBs that have won it before me – guys like Justin (Simmons, the 2016 recipient) and John (Johnson, the 2015 recipient) were great players here and they have gone on to be great players in the NFL. They were great people here at BC and well respected. I’m just happy to follow in their footsteps.
“I was humbled by the award because I know the background about Jay McGillis; I’m just happy that I got the chance to wear his jersey,” said Yiadom, referring to the fact that the award recipient wears McGillis’ No. 31 during the Eagles’ game on Senior Day. “He was a great dude here. This award means so much here at BC. As a senior defensive back if you receive the Jay McGillis Award it means you fill all the characteristics of being a great player and teammate on and off the field.”
Yiadom was selected to receive the McGillis Award at the conclusion of the Eagles’ spring practices back in May, but the honor wasn’t officially announced until Dec. 10 at the team’s senior awards banquet.
Boston College coach Steve Addazio said Yiadom, like those who have won the McGillis award before him, is a very deserving recipient.
“The Jay McGillis Award is a prestigious award that our kids all recognize,” Addazio said. “It’s got a lot to do with being an outstanding defensive back, but it also has a lot to do with the way the recipient carries himself and demonstrates his leadership and his character. Ike has been all of the above at an A-plus level.”
Sean Mulcahy, Yiadom’s coach and mentor at Doherty, was thrilled – but not surprised – that his former player won such a prestigious honor.
“It didn’t surprise me at all that he won the McGillis Award, and that’s a huge honor, I’m really proud of him. Isaac is an unbelievable competitor and leader. He was that way with us and he carried that with him to BC,” Mulcahy said. “As good as his talent was, he hated to lose; maybe even more than he liked to win. We saw that competitive spirit his first day of practice as a high school freshman. He practiced very hard and he hated to lose any drill that we ran in practice. Isaac was a track guy, too, so he made sure he never lost a sprint.”
As for Yiadom’s leadership, Mulcahy was reminded of it this past season when Yiadom came back from Boston College to be on the sidelines when the Highlanders played St. John’s in the Central Mass. Division 3 playoffs.
“First of all, I was really impressed that as a senior in college on the one Friday night that he had all to himself during the season Isaac took the time to come home and go to a Doherty game and be on the sidelines,” Mulcahy said. “And he got involved in the game right away, too. St. John’s had scored first and there was a little bit of bickering going on as our kids were coming off the field. Isaac stepped right in and got in their faces – and one of them was his brother Paul who was a junior on the team – and told them stick with it, to keep their cool, that it’s a long game. He told them all the things you want to hear from a captain or a coach.
“Isaac jumping in like that meant a lot to the kids,” Mulcahy continued. “He is a great example for our kids. Isaac is a quality kid and a great ambassador for our school and our football program.”
Yiadom received another impressive honor earlier this week when he was officially invited to participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which will be held Jan. 27 at Land-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., and televised live on the NFL Network.
“I’m very excited about being invited to the Senior Bowl,” Yiadom said. “It gives me another chance to show a lot of people who I am and how good I can play. I just want to go out there and let them see what I can do.”
Addazio believes the NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl are going to be impressed by the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Yiadom.
“Isaac has great physical size and fantastic speed; a lot of guys at the next level are recognizing that,” Addazio said. “I think he is finally being recognized for his ability. Ike’s a fantastic player and he has really come a long way.”
This season for the eagles Yiadom recorded 51 total tackles, including 32 solo stops. He was in on eight tackles (six solo) against Clemson, he intercepted two passes (one against Clemson, one against Virginia Tech) and recorded seven pass breakups, including two each against Clemson and Virginia.
His senior year at Doherty Yiadom helped lead the Highlanders to the 2013 Massachusetts Division 4 title with his rushing and receiving prowess. Yiadom carried the ball 37 times, gaining 420 yards (11.4 yards-per-carry) and scoring four touchdowns. He also had 42 catches for 940 yards (22.4 ypc) and seven touchdowns. On defense he recorded 107 tackles – seventh highest in CMass. – and intercepted two passes.
Also on the state title team for Doherty was Alfred Adarkwah who is now playing wide receiver at UMass-Amherst. Adarkwah finished the 2013 season for Doherty with 31 receptions for 586 yards (18.9 ypc) and 12 touchdowns, one more than Yiadom scored that year. Mulcahy said Yiadom and Adarkwah competed against each other every day in practice and he feels it made them both better.
“Isaac was very competitive in a good way with Alfred; they made each other better,” Mulcahy said. “They are very good friends but they were friendly competitors, too, in terms of just being good receivers who pushed each other.”
Mulcahy said he and the rest of the Doherty coaching staff knew early on that Yiadom would be able to not only play college football, but at the highest level of college football.
“We knew he was fast enough,” Mulcahy said, “but when we saw what a good football player he was overall, we knew he was definitely someone who was going to play at a pretty high level of football. He just kept getting better and better.
“We used him differently than they use him,” Mulcahy continued. “As fast as he was we used him as a strong safety so he could be up in the box to make tackles. We knew in college they would probably put him where he is now – left-side corner. It seems like BC’s opponents didn’t throw at him very often and when they did he was able to make plays. It seemed like he was getting very little action in terms of the ball coming his way.”
Yiadom said an opponent not throwing the ball in his direction was something he couldn’t control.
“I feel like they threw at me the same amount at the end of the year as they did at the beginning of the year,” Yiadom said. “For me making plays is just a matter of being around the ball when the ball is thrown. I just have to run to the ball and good things will happen. That’s what I can control.”
Mulcahy believes Yiadom’s decision to enroll at Boston College in January of 2014 instead of finishing out at Doherty has played a key role in his development as a player.
“Like a lot of Division 1 schools BC recommends to their incoming freshmen recruits that they enroll in January of the year before they are officially a freshman at the school so they have an extra half a year to get adjusted to the school and the routine of the football program,” Mulcahy said. “It’s a smart move by the colleges that are able to do it.
“Because he was enrolled at BC for that semester Isaac was able to get a whole year of spring ball in so when he competed in the fall he had already participated in those 16 practices where they install everything,” Mulcahy said. “Any kids that weren’t able to do what he did – and I don’t know how many kids in his recruiting class weren’t able to enroll in January – they’re arriving at BC in August and having to learn it all on the fly. Because of that Isaac was way ahead of some of his peers and was able to compete early. He obviously impressed them in preseason practices because they didn’t redshirt him as a freshman and he actually played a decent amount that year.”
Yiadom played in all 13 of the Eagles’ games as a freshman, mostly on special teams (127 plays) and finished with 13 tackles on the season. His first career tackle came against UMass in the first game of the year. He recorded a career-high (at the time) four tackles against Virginia Tech and also he also made two tackles against Colorado State. Yiadom also recorded two tackles that year against Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Yiadom enrolling early at Boston College almost didn’t happen, however.
“In Worcester the graduation requirements state a student must take four years of English, so obviously Isaac needed to take English as a senior in order to graduate. You can’t take two as a junior which I guess you can do in some school districts,” Mulcahy said. “So it looked like he wasn’t going to get the opportunity to graduate early.”
As a Doherty student Yiadom was a member of Worcester School Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone’s Advisory Committee.
“After one of their Advisory Committee meeting Isaac met with Dr. Boone to discuss the situation,” Mulcahy said. “He explained to her how he was going to be behind because the majority of the kids in his recruiting class were graduating early and would be up at BC in January and he’d still be here at Doherty finishing his graduation requirements.
“Dr. Boone looked into it and saw that this was going to be an obstacle for him. So, she allowed him take a college-level English course at Becker, a course that would finish in December and substitute it in for the year-long English course he would have taken at Doherty,” Mulcahy said. “Isaac left us in December. He came back for prom and graduation, but he left us as a student in December and was at BC in January.”
Addazio said BC’s recruitment of Yiadom began in earnest when he attended BC’s football camp the summer after his junior year at Doherty.
“We’re big on camp. That’s my philosophy. You get a guy in camp and you get a chance to coach the guy on the field,” Addazio said. “Film is a part of it, no doubt. But sometimes film on DBs is hard, especially in high school. What helped us was the fact his high school coach was fantastic and his program was great.
“When you work a guy out at camp you get a real sense of the guy. You can tell the intangibles as well as the skills. Then you go ahead and put him through all the DB drills and you watch him play man coverage,” Addazio said. “And you get to see how he takes to the coaching and can he translate that to the field. We saw real promise on film; we backed it up with what we felt was a good camp experience and we felt terrific about Ike from Day 1.
“At that time we were really into trying to get bigger corners and here was Ike, a tall corner who could run,” Addazio said. “He was raw, very raw, but he was tough and he could run. Isaac has developed every year. If you haven’t spent some time around Ike you should. He is a beautiful kid. What a guy he is. He’s just fantastic. He’s a great role model who represents Boston College in an excellent way.”
Yiadom said attending the BC camp confirmed what he already knew.
“After my junior year at Doherty I felt like I had the ability to play at the Division 1 level, it was just a matter of somebody giving me a chance,” Yiadom said. “I knew I was pretty tall, had good size for a corner and I’m pretty fast. At my position those are the things you need. So, when they gave me a chance at camp I knew it was a great opportunity and I had to take advantage of it.”
Yiadom’s strong senior season, his being the recipient of the prestigious Jay McGillis Award and his being invited to the Senior Bowl have all greatly improved his chances of playing on Sundays next year.
“I think it has,” Mulcahy said. “I’m starting to get feelers on his character from a handful of NFL teams. Several teams have sent a questionnaire to me and to Wendy Marshall, who was his track coach here at Doherty, as well as others at Doherty to fill out on his behalf.
“The questionnaires are mostly character questions,” Mulcahy said. “They ask a few football questions but a lot of it is centered around rating him on off-the-field stuff – punctuality and things of that nature. Isaac’s off the charts with that stuff. He would have gotten into Boston College as a student – not taking into account his football ability; he was that good of a student.”
Between teaching and coaching at Doherty and helping chauffeur his three nephews and niece around town, Mulcahy doesn’t get much time to just sit and watch Yiadom and Boston College play. Mulcahy, in fact, was able to actually watch just one of Yiadom’s games this season, the Eagles home game against North Carolina State on Nov. 11.
“The game had already started when I turned it on and of course I’m looking for No. 20 (Yiadom) and I see No. 31 playing his position so I’m thinking Isaac must have gotten hurt,” Mulcahy said. “So, I watched the entire game and No. 20 isn’t in for even one play. And, what’s worse is this kid, No. 31, he’s pretty good. I start thinking, ‘wow, I hope this kid doesn’t end up taking Isaac’s job.’”
After the game Mulcahy was informed that it was Yiadom who was wearing No. 31 in memory of Jay McGillis.
“I worried the whole game that Isaac got hurt and that he’s going to lose his starting spot to this No. 31 and the whole time it was Isaac,” Mulcahy said with a laugh.
“Isaac is an awesome kid, he deserves everything he’s gotten,” Mulcahy said. “Coach (Jim) Reid, BC’s defensive coordinator came through recently on his recruiting tour and he said that Isaac is by far one of the Eagles top character guys. Isaac, coach Reid said, is one of the guys that the coaching staff points to for recruits to be like.”