Coach Spotlight: Phillip Ely
Plant High School is known for developing some great quarterbacks with at least three with household names in this region of the country. The head coach is the master-mind of these signal callers.
"Every team has a different way that they do things," Robert Weiner said. "For us the trigger man is really at the center focus of what it is that we are doing. It doesn't really matter if you are running it or throwing it. He has to be in complete command of the offense.
"We spend as much time as we possibly can making sure that we are on the same page. They are seeing the same thing as I am, and they are understanding what it is we are trying to accomplish, and how we are going to call it, and why we are going to call it.
"For instance, we have a new crop of quarterbacks trying to be the next guy. We started their work yesterday just watching a pro football together. Talking the language and making sure they can see the same things that I can see. That is the first part of the process.
"It really is kind of a special learning process. I think there is probably no connection more in sport than quarterback and quarterback coach that have to be on the same page.
"For me I've been truly blessed to have Robert Marve, Aaron Murray, and Phillip Ely and not only made that process a fruitful one in terms of results, but also made it enjoyable. They are three amazing kids, and it's been really a professional joy to watch them grow and develop as players and human beings."
Ely may not typically fit Nick Saban's normal quarterback-mode size, but the Tide's head coach saw something special along the way which may have started at summer camp.
"I think probably what he saw eventually, you know a place like Alabama doesn't take a kid just because of what they see in camp," Weiner explained. "That may be the final straw because they get to see the real person, but it has to be on film and the results of what that kid does.
"I think one of the things we all see in Phillip is he's a winner, and you can't underestimate that trait of his. Some how, some way he has this dynamic personality that attracts other people to do the right things and rally others for a common cause.
"If you look at Phillip's varsity career he's been to the state finals three times, and won it twice. I believe his record is 32-3 as a starting quarterback, very similar to the numbers that the previous quarterback [Greg McElroy] at Alabama had. That's Phillip, he's that kind of kid. He's going to make sure that everybody is in the right place doing the right things, and then he's going to take care of his part of the job as well.
Ely has the bloodlines of several athletes in the family. He has grown up with football talk as a part of life and a well established family in their community.
"Phillip's dad has four brothers, and all five played football at Plant High School," Weiner explained. "All went on to play major college football. Two went to Florida, two went to Miami, and one went to the Air Force Academy. His mom went to Plant High School, and his grandparents went to Plant. They are kind of the first family of Plant."
What attracted the Sunshine State prospect to Alabama?
"Like anybody else that gets recruited. He loved the coaching staff," Weiner stated. "In fact, he has enjoyed Coach Saban even more since he got there as an early signee. He enjoyed Coach Saban and his meetings with him. He really enjoys being with Coach McElwain, and that was a good connection right away. The interesting thing is that he is not only the recruiter for our area, but he is the quarterback coach. Obviously, that connection is the most important one.
"I think all of that aside, I think that is normal recruiting stuff. We always try to tell our players when you get up on campus take football out of the equation is that where you want to be. I really think the University of Alabama, and not just the football program, was really a place where Phillip wanted to be.
"He feels very comfortable about the academic programs, the campus and the people that are on that campus. He seems to fit like a glove. Even in his first couple of days he seems to be acclimating quickly, and he seems to be really, really, happy already.
The first part of Plant's 2010 season was tough, but they made it to the championship game. Ely had the injury bug in the early part of the year, but this was not the coach's first rodeo.
"I think he contributed a lot," he said. "He had the experience. We had a similar situation the year before. Phillip was hurt early, and we lost a couple of games. We went on to win the state championship.
"This year, I don't know if anybody in the county plays a tougher first six games than we did. We played two games on national television, three nationally ranked teams. We really played a difficult schedule at the beginning, and we knew it was a process.
"We had only four returning starters, so 18 new starters in starting positions. We knew it was going to be a little bit of a process, and really Phillip's experience of guiding a ship through that kind of journey really was invaluable throughout the course of the year.
"There was no point where I saw Phillip panic. People from the outside were saying, "What's wrong with Plant?" We knew there was nothing wrong with Plant. We were just in process of getting where we need to be.
"It's always about keeping your sights on the correct goal, and that's where Phillip really did a great job in helping our team realize that our goal is the end game. How are we taking strides to getting better towards that point. Through those stormy waters Phillip was able to keep our ship on course. "
'The process' is a term Ely obviously heard in high school, and will hear even more in Tuscaloosa. It's one of Nick Saban's most often used.
"If you don't think you are not a part of a football program, you might just be part of a team that is a one-year fly-by team that might have one good year and then not good the next. Alabama is going to be a team vying for the national championship every year, so they understand that is a process the same way we do.
"Particularly for Phillip. He's got a great opportunity, he's going in there early. He's going to take 15 credits as a student, and probably nine or 10 in the summer. He'll have 24 credit hours before he ever starts as a freshman year as a student. That's very important to him. He is such an outstanding student as well.
"It really is a great opportunity. He is going to go in there and learn the offense this spring, and he's real excited about that. Obviously, if you are not the 6-4, 6-5 quarterback you better be making up for it in other areas. Phillip is incredibly smart, and his work ethic may only be rivaled by his predecessors Robert Marve and Aaron Murray.
"The one thing people talk about my three quarterbacks they have been so different in personality and approach and things like that. But the one thing that is the same is there is no one in the country who works harder than they do.
"I'm sure they will find out right away at Alabama that Phillip, like everybody else, will have a lot of steps to go in that process. He's ready to roll up his sleeves and go to work with everyone else."
Ely is almost 10 hours from home, and bonding with players is real important in the life of a student-athlete. Especially for early enrollees.
"He never really had an official visit," Weiner said. "We went up there for camp and things like that. I think initially you just get thrown in together with the other early signees.
"He has orientation, and I was up there the first couple of days. His parents were there for an official this weekend, and they just left. As of right now he's on his own in college.
"I think most of all he's latched onto a friendship with Vinnie Sunseri. That's probably a perfect start for him, a guy who is from right there and understands everything about Alabama. Just in my couple of days of being up there he seems like a great kid for him to be around.
"The one thing that is great about football, most kids that go to college we worry about how we will fit in and make friends. As a football player you are going to be in the middle of the dirt, sweating, and working out and going through incredible difficult things together with guys. Your friend base is already there. I think that's a great thing for a football player, and Phillip is a guy that will have great friends like Vinnie and other guys on the team.
Ely had some time off from the end of their season until he reported in San Antonio. A time to heal any injuries.
"He feels really good actually," Weiner said. "We went to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and he felt really good going through all the practices and those things. One thing that bothered him during the year is that he injured his ankle early in the year. We had to spend a lot of time tending to getting that better.
"We spent a lot of time talking with the medical staff, and the people at Alabama. That's just something that is a matter of maintenance. SEC football is a physical violent game. That's not saying there aren't going to be other bumps and bruises along the way, but that's part of the game.
The qualities Ely will bring to the Tide team sounds very familiar to another signal caller.
"I think his leadership and his personality," Weiner said of Ely's strengths. "But I think as a player it is his decision making, his accuracy, his footwork, and his ability to move around in the pocket.
"He may not be the biggest guy, but he is able to move around in the pocket in a way that people don't get a lot of great shots at him. He gets the ball off and gets it off accurately and on time. He has deceptive arm strength. People think because of his size that he doesn't have a strong arm. He really does and can sling it pretty good."
Coach Weiner discussed areas of improvement for his former athlete.
"I think number one he will just have to continue to strengthen his body," he said. "Obviously he will need to continue to get bigger playing in the greatest conference in college football against some of the great athletes and great sized guys.
"He will just have to continue to maximize his body the best that he possibly can. Be at his full strength for injury prevention and for maintenance, but also for making the plays that he will have to make at that level.
"Of course, the adjustment of learning a whole new offense, but Alabama's offense is very similar to ours in many ways. I think the concepts of the offense will be ones that he will easily catch onto. At first it's like learning a new language. You have to learn the language and all the exceptions to the language, etc.
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