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March 30, 2011

Q&A with Coach Ellerson: Inside look at Army 2011

GoBlackKnights.com's Paul Franklin was able to have an exclusive half-hour conversation with head football coach Rich Ellerson today.

Due to not being able to talk specifically about players by name, the Army mentor did address the general talents and some specific positions coming from both the current group of prep school players as well those reporting directly to West Point.

However, some of the players that GBK has highlighted in some of our very recent articles fall into Ellerson's category of incoming players to keep an eye on. That would include center Ryan Powis, fullback Larry Dixon and quarterback Angel Santiago to name a few.

Hear about a model program Ellerson is working on in concert with the existing Senior Leadership Seminar for football prospects.

Find out how the staff and players are spending the off season, especially with spring practice having concluded. Ellerson also talks about this year's schedule and how the team shapes up as it looks toward preseason camp this summer.

Here is Part I of our two part Q&A series with Army Black Knights' Head Coach, Rich Ellerson.



GBK: Could you talk about some of the help that will be arriving this year, both from the prep school and those coming directly to West Point?

Ellerson: I think we're getting some great help from the prep at quarterback, defensive back and center. We expect this class to be well-represented on that first airplane (road trip). It's a kind of good news-bad news. The good is that we're recruiting well, the bad news is there are opportunities for a lot of young guys to get in the hunt because we're a little bit thin on the upper classes.

We know who our (starting) quarterback is and our defensive backs, but those lines are not long ones - especially the fullback position. That's an awfully combative position. (Senior) Jacob Bohn is moving on, so behind Jared Hassin, well, we have high expectations for that position in this class. We have high expectations for quarterback from the prep as well as a couple of guys direct. That makes us a little better prepared for the graduation of Max Jenkins (next year).

And I think arguably the best player coming out of the prep might be a center. Obviously coming out of BEAST you don't want to be counting on somebody who just went through that to come in and save you. But it will be good to add on (Will) Wilson's success this spring.

We also have a wonderful free safety at the prep, but I'm really pleased with the (varsity) free safety progress here. We could move him around to one of the other positions that maybe is more of a concern. There were a lot of new faces out there this spring. I'm encouraged. We're green but a little flexible. I think (Tyler) Dickson and (Thomas) Holloway are ahead of the curve, but we do have a direct kid that we expect to play safety. But even with that we will have a little flexibility for safety or corner competition. So there's a lot of good news out there.

But without a whole lot of imagination you will see 14 to 17 freshmen traveling. That's generally not a healthy thing. Again, it speaks well to our recruiting, but I don't like having that many opportunities.

GBK: Generally speaking, will the prep school grads have an advantage over an equally-talented freshman coming to the Point?

Ellerson: That's typically the case. They're a year older. And they're not likely to get caught flat-footed by what's going to happen this summer. Plus they've gotten fundamentally into our offense and defense so they have a real leg up. In their ability to compete they will understand what our expectations are, they will understand what we're gonna talk about, they will understand the drill work. They're not going to be perfect by any stretch, but they'll be ahead from an orientation standpoint.

This prep group is really our first class, from soup to nuts, that we had contacted. They are the first fully-vetted outfit coming through the door. So from Day One they were doing things in our system.

We do have high expectations of them, but we can't anoint anybody. We don't know because we like what they did in high school or at the prep, as well as the group we're sending down there this year.

The current team has helped us in that area. Their success made a difference, their voice made a difference. And that's the natural part of the evolution of a developmental program.


GBK: Talk about the kicking game and the new prospects.

Ellerson: We have a good group going to the prep school. But the kicker we had at the prep this year has left. The kicking game will change. We feel pretty good about where we are there, and I feel great about the group going down to the prep school. We may be looking for them in 2012 to be in the hunt, to be a place kicker and a kickoff guy.

(Eric) Osteen has done a nice job. He has a real strong leg from the perspective that he can step into (Matt) Campbell's shoes. Alex (Carlton) is back, and we think he is a really good kicker.

Punting is a little more problematic, but we do have a couple of underclassmen behind (soon-to-graduate) Jon ( Bulls). And we have a good punter coming in to the prep.

GBK: Speaking of recruits, there is no "Junior Day'' at West Point, nor are there any summer camps like at so many colleges. Are you missing out on recruiting opportunities?

Ellerson: We're trying to tie in with our Summer Leadership Seminar. We don't have that mass cattle call. The evaluation process, the decision process that's involved in choosing something like West Point, there's so much more involved. It's so different from all the other colleges. It's apples and oranges. I don't think it fits here. A "Junior Day'' would be obviously very regionally-centered. With SLS (not just for football prospects but for the general population) we've tried to direct a handful of guys who we know ahead of time, who as juniors have a real interest in us and are dead serious about investing in this path. They can be here for a week. It's competitive, but an opportunity to get ahead of the curve.

I don't want football to be the driving force, but obviously it's part of the equation. So that's the model we're working on. We're trying to back away from what every civilian school in the world is doing. Because frankly, it's just inappropriate. People talk about sophomores and stuff. Are you kidding me? That's nuts. A couple of generations ago most guys were coming here 20-21 years-old. It takes longer to get your arms around this. This is just too different, too unique, too big a step to be taken on an afternoon at Michie Stadium.

This model program is in the developmental stages. We're trying to come up with something that obviously has to be NC2A-friendly. And because we're interacting with the department of academics - this is their baby, so we're trying to tag on to that.

That's what we're fussing with. That would be our "Junior Day'' and our "summer camp.'' That makes sense to me because people come from all over the country. But it won't be a cast of thousands, just a relatively small group.

But again, we have to hash out all the details because there are 10,000 rules of doing it right.

Tomorrow: Ellerson talks about what essentially transpires from here until preseason camp, takes a look at the upcoming schedule, and offers his thoughts about the challenges when camp begins.

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