July 8, 2012

GBK: Q&A with Army Head Coach, Rich Ellerson - Part I

GBK: When you are recruiting, what are you looking for out of players, to get the right guys?

Ellerson: As you know, we are recruiting first and foremost to the institution. We are screening the population and looking for guys who can obviously run and jump, who play the game ... who are explosive athletic guys who in our minds are going to develop. Because you are looking at 17-18 year olds and you are projecting them out in a couple of years as to what they're going to be physically.

Beyond that ... it's the actual physical dynamic, you're looking for guys that love the game, you're looking for guys that have the character and intellect to prosper at West Point and to be successful in every domain.

You don't do a guy a favor by bring him in if he is ill equipped for what's going to be waiting for him. You're not to right by the institution, you're not doing right by the young man, so you're asking a few more questions. One of the ways ... once we think we've identified that player that deem as someone who can run, jump and hit, along with the intellect and character to succeed at West Point. Then we quickly bring to their attention the destination. When we first start the recruiting process, the first thing we do is make them aware of what happens when you graduate from West Point. In other words, why does West Point exist and if you just look at our mission statement you get there pretty quickly.

So we start with that. Why the institution exist and what that young officer looks like. We don't worry about what happens 5, 10 or 20 years after graduation. We talk about what that young officer's life looks like, what his challenges look like, what deployment looks like. Then we ask a very straight forward question .... does that look like you in 4-5 years? If you think it does, then we should talk, but if you don't think it does let's not waste each other's time.

That allows us to very quickly identify the where there is fertile ground if you will for us to be spending our time. We're not looking to talk people into those things ... we want to make sure that it is appealing to them on the front end.

So what are those things? We're talking about athleticism, we're talking about football being a big deal and we are talking about intellect and character.

And once we have that suspect list, that turns into a prospect list based on how they respond to that first question.

GBK: At your cookout earlier this week (Pre R-Day), you met with the incoming frosh class. What are some of the most important things you needed to get across to them about you, the staff, the direction of the program, etc.?

Ellerson: The only thing we really try to get to them .... obviously {laughing}, they're not really going to hear a lot of what you are saying because they are about to make that big transition. Like I said, they have a lot of things on their to-do list obviously when they get to Beast Barracks and as the football coach what I don't want to do is that I don't want to add a lot of things to that.

But I did do and do is we do start off with is team building challenge. It is a skill that is really important to the football program, but it's also a basic skill for any young officer.

Because it's an interesting day (R-Day) because you have those guys coming from the prep school (USMAPS) and those guys have been together for almost a year. They've played a schedule, they been through some of that first dramatic moment when they leave home and in some cases go across the country, where they are thrown into this extraordinary challenging environment and they bounded to those experiences. Now we add these direct guys ... these guys right out of high school into that equation. So you can imagine what it is for those guys coming right out of high school and coming to a place like West Point with all the challenges and how intimating that experience is. Then, to add insult to injury and they look over there and go "holy cow, all those guys over there know each other, they got the secret handshake {Ellerson chuckles}, they are laughing, having a good time and it can make those guys (direct) feel isolated.

So the first business was for the guys that had been at the prep school to the direct guys and be responsible for. They are responsible to help those guys ... help them over the rough spots during the early days of Beast Barracks and leverage their experience coming from the prep school. They are going to make sure that those guys come out of Beast as part of that larger team.

Then of course when we get to training camp later in the summer, the first job of the firstees is to take that freshman class and give those guys integrated larger picture

That was the only that I wanted to add to their job description. They have to look out for and take those direct guys and make them part of the Army football class that came from the prep school. So that they are in fact the Army class of 2016 and it's a single group. It's not a group of direct guys and a group of prep guys, when they get here at training camp.

GBK: From a recruiting point of view, you once again had great success nationally, evident by 21 states represented. However, one of the biggest recruiting topics that exist with Army fans, surrounds the idea of having a summer football camp that will allow the Army/West Point brand to be felt up close and personal, along with an opportunity for potential prospect to be seen face to face. Can you talk about your philosophy pertaining to such camps.

Ellerson: It's problematic. What we try to do Charles, is that we leverage is SLS (Summer Leadership Seminar). Those guys that we are aware of, that we know that we like and they are interested in West Point ... we are encouraging them to get to SLS. That's more important frankly than the football part of it.

The football thing is an evaluation opportunity ... I don't care what people say. They're using that .... those 1 & 2 day camps as evaluation moments. Frankly, that's what they're used for and that's not what they're suppose to for, but everybody is kind of winking and nodding

I'm frankly uncomfortable with it and we don't get much out of it. We don't get much out of it. We've done it in the past and it hasn't been especially productive. The SLS experience is much more beneficial, because we know kind of what guys are coming out of their senior year.

The other thing is that our coaches are able to is that they are able to work in some of those camps in different regions, that they have worked in for years. We've get some good work out of that and we actually able to work in somebody else's camp and get a look at various populations .... that we have guys do.

Trying to get a lot of kids up to West Point ... it's not consistent with that national mandate if you will. It's obviously going to have a Northeast footprint.

Frankly it's just not a big payoff in it. You're seeing a different group ... there's that group of guys that seem to go around from camp to camp to try and market themselves. And again, it speaks to how unique the recruiting and evaluation methodology needs to be here.

But between some of our coaches involvement in other camps that are more regional. And again, with those guys that we've identified, that has been productive and that has been a positive. The other thing (football camps at West Point) frankly has not been. And our summers are so short as it is

We're already out of the summer and we're in the first week in July and we have our freshman class is here. The opportunities that we have in Mass Athletics, so we got done with spring recruiting, early June end of May and now we're in Mass Athletics. So, I don't need to put something else on our coaches calendars. We've got plenty going on.

GBK: Staying on the recruiting track, there is some real talent coming in this year .... prep obviously, but also there appear to be a couple of direct players that have the potential to make some noise this summer. Can you talk about some of the players that you have had a chance to evaluate if you will, from prep and even direct that may fall into that category?

Ellerson: As you said, there's some guys, that I'm not sure I would say a step ahead, because you have to careful and hold your expectations on what they look like and who they are coming out of Beast. You know, some guys have an easier time than others. You wish there was a way to anticipate and manage that, but you can't. So you have to wait and see when we get started in August.

But you are right ... there have been some guys who were at the prep school that may be a little more physically mature, they've been the block with the offense and defense a little bit, therefore it's easier to project them.

Defensively, we still ... we've had some short enough lines and we had an explosive enough outfit that I think there are some guys that may find themselves in the mix.

The good news is that this year where last year in some cases maybe we were counting on some of those guys to have an impact. This year I don't feel that way. I don't think we are counting on these guys to get in the front of the line. But I think we have guys that my inedibly may find themselves in the mix. Maybe not all the way to the front of the line, but they will be competing.

I would say defensively and if I were going to look at the back in I would say Chris Carnegie is ahead of the curve at corner. It will be interesting to see how he fits in out there. I would talk about the safety/Mike linebacker in Alex Meir and Brandon Fusillier-Jeffries, both are accomplished players down at the prep school that are physical-mature guys.

Up at the defensive front, Dalton Mendenhall ... he's sees the game very very well. He was that rush in, but can play a couple things. Jonas Niusulu and T.J. (Tala Atimalala) on the defensive front. Jacob Owen

GBK: Hey Coach, there's an accounting term, FIFO (First In First Out) which in this case may be applicable to the seasoned players on the roster. As such, there is tremendous offensive firepower returning this season, lead by Trent Steelman, Raymond Maples, Larry Dixon and a host of others. What are your expectations from this unit going into summer camp and the season itself.

GBK: I like to target 3 offensive players if you don't mind. And ask if you could give just one or two words that you feel best describe each ball player.
Malcolm Brown
Frank Allen
Jared Hassin

GBK: Speaking of Hassin, where do you see him fitting in this season?

GBK: My final question surrounding the offense. There is a need for players like Chevaughn Lawrence and others to step up and in at receiver. Coming into summer practice, which guys should we be keeping an eye on and what expectations do you have for this crew this summer?

GBK: How do you either deal with the heightened expectations, or think about wanting to get this program back on track, nationally?

GBK: Clearly 2011 was a year of transition. That being said, what do you do feel like you didn't get accomplished last season in-spite of being inexperienced and young defensively, but yet seasoned offensively.

GBK: Coach, staying with the defense for the moment. Who are the players that you are looking to step up or need to have them step and be difference makers this summer/season?

GBK: On what he would like to see happen during summer practice ... what is your goal?

GBK: How big is getting an Air Force and Navy win was for the team in 2012?

GBK: Often fans only see Rich Ellerson as Army's head coach. Can you share with the fans what you do to unwind from the day to day of coaching at such a demanding institution?

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