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November 14, 2008

Milford Academy is a running back factory

MORE: This season's top Milford Academy products

The subject should draw nearly as many passionate arguments as the BCS debate: Which school in the country does the best job of producing running backs?

Two of the top five rushers in the NFL this season Clinton Portis and Frank Gore played at Miami. Arkansas had two running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. Miami Dolphins star Ronnie Brown, Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams, Cincinnati's Kenny Irons and the New York Giants' Brandon Jacobs all played at Auburn at one point in their careers.

But this season, the real "Running Back U." isn't a university at all. The honor instead belongs to Milford Academy, a prep school in New Berlin, N.Y.

While many casual fans likely haven't heard of Milford, they certainly know the school's famous alumni: Iowa's Shonn Greene, Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy and Miami's Graig Cooper.

"I came there as a boy," McCoy said, "and left as a man."

He's part of a growing fraternity.

McCoy ranks 13th in the nation in rushing and has exceeded the 1,000-yard mark at Pittsburgh for a second consecutive season. He played in a Milford backfield that also featured Cooper, who ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing and has reached the 100-yard mark three times this season.

The biggest Milford success story this season is Greene, who has developed into a legitimate Heisman candidate and led Iowa to a 24-23 upset of previously unbeaten Penn State last week. Greene has rushed for 1,374 yards to rank third in the nation and has reached the 100-yard mark in each of Iowa's 10 games.

"If you're a running back," Milford Academy coach Bill Chaplick said, "this is the place to go."

Indeed, this isn't the first time former Milford running backs have found prominence elsewhere.

Marcel Shipp went from Milford to Massachusetts, where he rushed for more than 5,000 yards before embarking on an NFL career. Greene made the move from Milford to Iowa after former Milford running back Fred Russell had two 1,000-yard seasons with the Hawkeyes.

"What I learned from having Fred on our team was just how involved Bill is with everybody's lives," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He followed Fred's career here very closely, came to several games home and away while Fred was playing. His interest in his players really impressed me.

"They've done a great job up there helping guys along and preparing them for college. I think a lot of the credit goes to Bill. He's the one constant denominator."

Chaplick played center for Boston College in the late 1970s, but a neck injury prevented him from continuing his career beyond college. He instead coached at a couple of New England high schools before moving to Milford a decade ago. During his coaching tenure, Chaplick has won better than three-quarters of his games while sending more than 100 players to Division I programs.

Many of his best-known players needed to enroll at Milford because they hadn't qualified academically, though Chaplick also receives applications from players hoping a year in prep school can help them impress recruiters. For example, linebacker Niko Koutouvides had no Division I offers before arriving at Milford, but he ended up lettering four years at Purdue.

Chaplick said applications have increased from 270 to 1,600 in the past five years. The students who get admitted to Milford generally can look forward to an education unlike anything they have ever experienced before.

Milford is an all-boys school that generally has no more than a dozen people in each class. Milford players usually have pre-breakfast weight-training sessions or team meetings before classes during the season, and they go to bed in time to meet a 10 p.m. curfew. The school dress code requires students to wear blue blazers, ties and khaki pants each day.

"They do a tremendous job academically making sure those guys are sound when you get them back to handle the load that's in college," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "Coach Chaplick does a tremendous job, and their staff is unbelievable."

If any Milford players want to leave campus or break curfew, they're not going to find much to do. As of July 2007, New Berlin which is in the middle of the state, about 70 miles southeast of Syracuse and about 200 miles northwest of New York City had a population of 1,106.

"It's very isolated, but it's a good kind of isolated," McCoy said. "Everything you need and want is really there, like grocery stores, food places and stuff like that. Other than that There are no girls there. There are no types of activities. It's just you and the guys. You go there for a reason football and academics."

Why has the school done such a good job of producing running backs lately?

Part of the reason is because those runners are working behind some talented lines while playing a schedule that includes junior colleges and Division I junior-varsity teams. Chaplick has done a good job of attracting future Division I offensive linemen to Milford.

Former Milford offensive linemen now on FBS (i.e., Division I-A) rosters include N.C. State's Jake Vermiglio, Toledo's John Morookian and Purdue's Ken Plue.

But the majority of the credit belongs to the running backs themselves.

Chaplick believed Greene was destined for the NFL as soon as he left Milford. Greene ran for 1,274 yards during his lone season in prep school.

"It's hard to believe that at 235 pounds, he never got caught from behind," Chaplick said. "He would never turn to the sideline. He always was a north-south runner. I never for a minute doubted he could do what he's doing right now."

Chaplick offers similar praise for McCoy and Cooper.

McCoy's rise to stardom at Pittsburgh is particularly impressive because he came to Milford overweight and on crutches as he recovered from an ankle injury. Cooper actually rushed for more than twice as many yards as McCoy at Milford two years ago, though McCoy has developed into the more productive college player.

" 'Coop' came in, and he was healthy, ready to go and hungry," Chaplick said. "He was totally focused one of the most focused players I've ever had. He did everything academically and football-wise to get to Miami as fast as he could.

"LeSean had to play catch-up because he was so far behind because of his injury. After about one semester, he bought into everything and realized what he had to do. Most guys could have gone either way. He chose the right path, became a man, went to work and got it done."

McCoy has continued getting it done each Saturday.

So have the rest of the former Milford running backs.

Milford's triple crown
Milford Academy produced three of the nation's top running backs this season:
Shonn Greene, Iowa
Stats: 226 carries, 1,403 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 13 TDs
The buzz: Greene who played his high school ball at Atco (N.J.) Winslow Township has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the Hawkeyes' nine games. He ranks third in the nation in rushing and is averaging more yards per carry than the two players ahead of him (Connecticut's Donald Brown and Michigan State's Javon Ringer).
LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
Stats: 210 carries, 1,043 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, 16 TDs
The buzz: McCoy who played high school ball at Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. He had rushed for at least 142 yards in five consecutive games before Louisville held him to 39 yards on 17 carries last week.
Graig Cooper, Miami
Stats: 141 carries, 686 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 4 TDs
The buzz: Cooper who played his high school ball at Memphis Melrose is leading the Hurricanes in rushing for a second consecutive season. He rushed for more than 100 yards against Texas A&M, North Carolina and Virginia.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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