One-on-one with Rich Ellerson, part 2

Rich Ellerson  (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In an exclusive interview a few days before the season opener, I spoke with head coach Rich Ellerson regarding the current state of the program, an overview of this year's offense, defense, special teams and recruiting. In this installment we continue our discussion of the other service academies, an overview of the team and a look at the offense.

ArmySports.com: Is there anything about this team that concerns you to the point it may keep you up at night as your gearing up for the start of the season?
Rich Ellerson: There are ten thousand of them. The first football game. There are always a million unknowns. Guys are going to be doing certain things for the first time. I'm frustrated Ryan Powis and Malcolm Brown, two good offensive football players, aren't going to be available for the first game. The good news we'll probably have them both for the second game but neither of them will make the trip [to San Diego].

ArmySports.com: We've discussed last year's struggles but for the record I'm predicting Army to win the Commanders-in-Chief's trophy this year.
Rich Ellerson: This should enter the payoff time with this team. I'm not surprised we struggled last year. We knew things had to fall a certain way for us to be competitive on that schedule with that team. This year the center of gravity is starting to move into the positive part of the ledger. We're a physically more mature outfit. You see it at practice. These guys run faster, they jump higher and they hit harder. We've flipped the schedule. We're practicing in the morning. We took all the slack out of the day. We're getting to sleep at night. The entire sophomore class went to summer school so we can under load [The players fall class schedule] and sacrificed leave to do it. So we've got some of these things in place that I think that are consistent with the West Point culture. I've always said we are going to win because of West Point, not in spite of it. I think that won't just be a saying, a clever thing to reiterate, I really believe that's something we can start to tap into because the physics are right. We've created a little bit more of a fair fight with who we've have out there running, jumping and changing direction. How well rested they are, how physically mature they are, how gifted they are and how well they've trained within our systems.

As you know, there are no transfers at the service academies. You have to grow your own so to speak and we have. I'm encouraged about what I am seeing out there. This is sort of the plan, coming together if you will, but we have to validate the value of that plan with the scoreboard. We gave everybody a lot of hope two years ago in 2010. We took a step back last year. You didn't have to be a clairvoyant to see that [2011 season] could have been a challenge when the injuries started to happen and that it got hard. To their credit that team battled every week. They fought back, they fought back, they fought back every week. I give them full marks [for effort]. I think they kept that internal belief, that work ethic alive so that these guys frankly have a chance to tap into that and take it to the next level. I think we should start to validate the vision we have here, this coaching staff, for Army football. It should start to validate itself with the scoreboard. You don't have to be one of these people, like you, that looks between the lines and says hey this is better, this is good. It is all those things. You look at our grades, they're better. You look at our leadership in the Corps of Cadets. You look at our conduct off the field, in the Corps and in the classroom and you say, Wow. You look at the quality of the young men we are bringing in here and you go, Wow. All that's great but at the end of the day the scoreboards got to say, Wow. I believe now we are entering those payoff years.

ArmySports.com: Turning to the offense. It seems you have recruiting the quarterback position well with some talented players joining the program this year and going to Prep. First, how is Trent's health? He had been durable but has had surgery every off season. How is his health heading into the season? What does the depth chart look like behind him?
Rich Ellerson: Trent's never been better. Behind him it's Angel [Santiago] but it's very competitive with A.J. Schurr [a plebe who started at USMAPS last year]. Angel's still ahead but AJ's going to makegv it interesting for him.
Note: Coach Ellerson declined to compare Santiago's and Schurr's athletic ability

ArmySports.com: Is Kelvin White going to run the JV? He reminds me a lot of Brian Hampton who was an option quarterback at Navy.
Rich Ellerson: He's really grown on me. He's closed that gap. He really has. What we do is a little bit foreign to his background. He has to quicken up his feet a little bit but he seeing it much, much better. He does bring some other things to the table [strong arm] He's in the mix as well. He probably came in with a little bit further to go, but I still say there is a great upside in him. Both in terms of the character of the young man, his ability to throw the ball and just his physical presence. He runs well, his foot speed needs to be a little bit better, but that comes with some physical maturity. As I said he getting more and more comfortable with what we do.

ArmySports.com: You recruited Blake McPherson a talented direct admit from Arlington, Washington. I saw that he had the highest plebe score for the Army Physical Fitness Test after he completed Beast Barracks but Blake wasn't on the roster this summer. What's his status?
Rich Ellerson: Blake is a really good athlete who is more of a track athlete.[McPherson is a state champion decathlete and excels in the javelin] He has a little bit of a knee issue and decided to go back to track full time rather than play football.

ArmySports.com: Discussing the running backs. I know you're really high on Terry Baggett and Raymond Maples. I remember Raymond as a fullback at the prep school. Every time I see him he's getting bigger and stronger. I think soon they're going to name a Transformer after him.
Rich Ellerson: [Laughs] Raymond has done a great job. He really had another epiphany I think this summer as a detail guy out at Camp Buckner. He found out that that this leadership, West Point thing, is something he's good at. [He said to himself] I can do this. I'm not sure if he necessarily knew that going into the summer. So he really grew as a young man. He never looked better physically. He's never practiced better. He's what you think a lot of guys should be. You should be playing your best football at an Academy as a junior and senior. The fact that we've had so many young guys play should help us as we enter these years.

ArmySports.com: Jared Hassin lost his starting fullback job due to his fumbling problems last year with him often losing the ball at the worst times. Where does he stand right now with the move to running back?
Rich Ellerson: He's playing in the slot. We've got him out of that real physical job description at fullback. Larry [Dixon] and Hayden Tippett are now the go-to- guys. It's still a physical job description. As Malcolm [Brown] bumped out to wide receiver he [Hassin] moved into the A-back position. I don't think he's necessarily in the first tier but he's part of that rotation. He's taken a million turns.

ArmySports.com: Is Hassin backing up Baggett or Maples?
Rich Ellerson He [Hassin] can play both sides. I'm trying to keep Terry and Raymond playing left and right. I'm letting Hassin, Fraser and Crucitti do both.

ArmySports.com: Do you still refer to them as A and C backs even though the half bone look is no longer the base formation?
Rich Ellerson They're "A"- backs but we still call them "A" and "C "because [even though] we play left and right.
Note: The change in 2011 to the wishbone formation balanced the running backs so the backs have same looks but from different sides. They still use different designation to avoid confusion.

ArmySports.com: How is running back Trenton Turrentine's hand injury progressing?
Rich Ellerson He won't be able to play till he can catch pitches. He's a week or two away from that but he's going to be just fine.

ArmySports.com: Looking at some of the incoming plebes. I was really impressed with Marcus Poling who was the MVP at B- back for the prep school last fall; he's very fast and athletic. Do you plan to moved him like you did with Maples from fullback.

Note: Raymond Maples played fullback at USMAPS in 2009. He was moved to A back at West Point.

Rich Ellerson We kept him current in the mesh at fullback but we think of him a little bit more Ray-like [Maples} than Larry Dixon-like. Larry and Hayden [Tippett] are both back next year and Larry for two more years. I think that's the right line for him to be in.[fullback] We'll see. He can easily make that move [to A back because of Poling's speed] because I do like him in space with the ball in his hands. He's a little bit Ray-like in that regard.

ArmySports.com: One of the most exciting running backs at prep last year was Ja'Quail Haskins. He had five touchdowns in five games, including three touchdown runs over thirty five yards, at USMAPS before he suffered a serious knee injury. Where is he physically and will he play this fall?
Rich Ellerson He's going to be fine. You have to give him a little more time. He's a guy that will need spring ball. We'll see how we go but he's a guy I might even pull off the field and let him train full time. I think his best football is probably going to happen next spring.

ArmySports.com: You're breaking in three new starters on the offensive lines. How have they looked?
Rich Ellerson Will Wilson has played a lot of football for us. Ben Jebb is a senior but doesn't have a lot of prime time game reps. He has some, not many, but he's a senior and he's been doing it for a longtime. He know his way around the offense backward and forwards. He played in games last year. Shumaker is new. He was here last year. He played the position at the prep school. The only thing in his way is experience. He can do all the things we want a guy to do at guard. He's very quick, very explosive not a big guy. He's a short squatty body guy but he's very explosive and very athletic.

ArmySports.com: You seem to have a lot a versatility on the offensive line with players like Momo Kime and Will Wilson being able to play anywhere on the line. Do you cross train players at multiple line positions?
Rich Ellerson Momo and Will can play anywhere. Not everyone can do that but those are two guys are centers. That's typical of us. Our back-up centers generally is good enough to start someplace else. You'll see that from time to time.

In Part 3 Rich Ellerson discusses the 2012 Army defense and recruiting.

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