The heat and humidity of a midsummer day in North Carolina can be oppressive even to those who are used to it. But for Harold Landry, the blast of hot air that greeted him as he stepped off a plane in Charlotte recently was as refreshing as an ice-filled glass of sweet tea.
It felt like home.
The All-ACC defensive end, who grew up in the Fayetteville suburb of Spring Lake, was back in the Old North State representing Boston College at the conference’s annual preseason Football Kickoff event. Because his Eagles are scheduled to play both NC State and Wake Forest in Chestnut Hill this year, the media day appearance will be Landry’s only trip back at least until the regular season is over in December.
That made this homecoming all the more meaningful, even though his family wasn’t able to make the three-hour drive to see him.
“I love being here,” said Landry, who led the nation in both sacks and forced fumbles last year. “Hopefully a team from the South drafts me (next year) and I can come back down.”
Truth be told, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior was never really keen on leaving in the first place. He relished the thought of playing for one of the teams he watched while growing up. But even as he was putting together a standout resume at Pine Forest High, Duke’s David Cutcliffe was the only coach from a state ACC school that showed more than just marginal interest in him.
State, North Carolina and Wake Forest, which had just undergone a coaching change, all eventually offered him a scholarship. By then, he said, was too late.
As it turned out, the timing wasn’t right for Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils, either.
“I visited Duke and I thought I was going to commit to Duke,” Landry said. “But I went to BC for a visit after that and I just fell in love with it, so I ended up going there.”
Landry might have made a different decision had his visit taken place in the winter of his freshman year, when a blizzard that was big even by Boston standards rumbled through the Northeast. Cold weather aside, the decision has turned out well for both Landry and the Eagles.
He played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2014 and became a starter the following year, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors as a member of a defense that ranked No. 1 nationally despite a 3-9 record.
After spending most of last offseason working on his own and with defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, a former assistant with the Houston Texans and several other NFL teams, Landry blossomed in 2016 while recording a BC school record 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. His contribution helped the Eagles improve to seven wins, including a victory against Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl.
It was a quantum leap not even head coach Steve Addazio saw coming.
“We saw some potential in him, but to say we saw where he is right now, no,” Addazio said. “I don’t even know that I could have told you that last year at this time.” The only one who wasn’t surprised by his breakout performance was Landry himself. “I’ve always been a hard worker,” he said. “It’s just carried me throughout my entire career and I ended up doing what I did last season. I wasn’t surprised by that because I busted my (butt) all offseason.”
Addazio attributed Landry’s success last season to this “God-given explosiveness and ability to turn the corner,” along with a willingness to accept coaching and a firm grasp of the techniques he’s been taught. Even with all that going for him, he’ll have a hard time repeating his performance from a year ago now that he’s destined to be the center of attention for every offensive lineman he’ll face.
Landry’s path to opposing quarterbacks figures to be more congested than rush hour traffic thanks to the double teams that will inevitably be thrown his way. But he’s determined not to let that stop him from having a major impact on the Eagles defense.
“I’ve already told myself I’m not going to use that as an excuse to why I would not produce,” he said. “I just work too hard to not produce. I’m going to find a way. I’m going to watch as much film as I can and break down offenses as much as I can to find tendencies and help this team as much as I can.”
The fact that Landry is back at BC this year is something of an upset in that he nearly declared for the NFL draft after last season.
Considered a potential top-10 pick, he decided not to turn pro, despite the urging of his family, in part because he wanted to stay close to his fiancee Danielle Rios-Roberts — a fellow BC student who was pregnant with their first child.
Grayson Landry was born on June 5, which also happens to be Harold’s birthday
“Being a father is just more motivation for me,” Landry said. “I want to be the best I can be for my son and my family.”
No matter where he ends up calling home.