For Boston College freshman Albert Louis-Jean, it's been a long road to reach Chestnut Hill.
Originally committed to the University of Miami, the Brockton, MA product had always dreamed of playing for the Hurricanes. He wore a Frank Gore jersey, played with the ‘Canes in video games and dreamt about what it would be like to spend his winters in Coral Gables.
When Louis-Jean had an opportunity to visit the sunshine state and meet former coach Randy Shannon in March of 2010, the decision was easy.
"[Shannon] cleaned up their program; made sure everyone was getting their degrees and kept everybody out of trouble," Louis-Jean said. "Then when my parents met him they felt really comfortable with it too and that put it over the top."
On the field, the Hurricanes were struggling. After replacing the departed Larry Coker and with the full support of the athletic department, Shannon had spent his first two seasons more focused on cleansing Miami of its off-field reputation rather than winning national championships. But, after winning nine games in 2009 and being a contender in the ACC's Coastal Division, the pressure was on to not only maintain a clean program, but to compete for BCS bowl games.
In 2010, the 'Canes regressed and were able to win just seven games in a season that ended with an ugly loss to Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl. After four seasons at the helm, Randy Shannon was fired with a record of 28-22 and replaced by former BC staffer and Temple head coach, Al Golden.
For Louis-Jean, who had developed a close relationship with Shannon, that meant he needed to explore his other available options.
"When he got fired it steered me away because I was graduating early and there wasn't really enough time to get to know [Golden],' he said. "I met the new coaching staff on my official visit late in December, but because I was going to be starting school in about two weeks, there just wasn't enough time to get comfortable with them."
After essentially eliminating Miami as a possible landing spot, and with time becoming a factor, Louis-Jean turned his attention back to the two other schools that he had been seriously considering, Penn State and Boston College.
Both schools had sterling academic reputations and had both been successful football programs over the last decade, but there was one thing Boston College had that he wouldn't have in Happy Valley: his family and friends.
"When it came down to it, if I was going to play in front of my family at either school like I used to in high school, why not do it here? I'd rather be here with everyone than go to another state just to do the same thing."
Exactly one month after Randy Shannon was fired, the top rated prospect in Massachusetts announced his intent to sign with Boston College and enroll for the spring semester. The decision to enroll early regardless of the situation was one that was very important to Louis-Jean. In addition to getting a chance to know some of his teammates and get a head start on the playbook, the potential academic impact was much more important:
"It was important because I'd get an extra semester under my belt so that I could graduate regardless of how long I stayed, whether it was three years, four years or even five years," he said. "And depending on the situation I might even be able to get a head start on my Masters Degree."
After enrolling at BC and participating in spring practices, Louis-Jean received rave reviews for his outstanding speed and coverage skills and appears ready to contribute on the field immediately during his freshman year. Listed as the back-up to senior cornerback Donnie Fletcher, one of only two true freshman to make the initial two-deep depth chart (along with Canadian defensive lineman Mehdi Abdesmad), Louis-Jean has had to make big adjustments in his game transitioning from high school to college.
"The biggest difference on the field is the speed of the game and having to do everything in a set way," said Louis-Jean. "In high school you're able to freelance a little bit, but in college there's a certain scheme to play that you have to stick to because, again, the speed of the game is so much faster."
As the season draws closer, roles are just now beginning to be established among the newer players. In addition to his dominant play at Brockton High as a secondary player, Louis-Jean was also the teams leading receiver last season with 28 catches for 572 yards and 5 touchdowns.
When he was being recruited, Louis-Jean was told that the opportunity to play some receiver was also a possibility, but that doesn't appear to be in the plans just yet. Special teams on the other hand, are another matter.
"The offense is a lot more complex, so to throw both at me right now would be a lot," he said. "So mainly I'll be just at field corner behind Donnie Fletcher, but they also have me in the nickel package. I have been practicing returning kicks and punts. [Montel Harris] has been doing it as well, but there might come a situation where they need me to do that also."
On September 3, 18 years of hard work will pay off for Louis-Jean as he steps onto the field at Alumni Stadium for his first game as a college player. For many BCS conference teams, a match-up with a local 1-AA team is the norm, but for Boston College the season opens up with a challenging match-up in Big 10 opponent Northwestern.
Behind a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats have the potential to derail BC's season before it ever really gets going. The pressure on the Eagles to repel the challenge of the visiting Wildcats will be very high, but if Louis-Jean is feeling the pressure of playing high level football games in front of his friends and family, he's not showing it.
"People told me there would be a lot of pressure and that the expectations would be really high, but I don't really feel any of that or pay any attention to it," Louis-Jean said. "I get butterflies before every game I play, but after that first hit it all goes away and I'll just be playing my game. There might be a few more butterflies than usual because it's my first college football game, but I've worked hard and I'll be ready."