Army Preps for the Future

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a college football program. One of the key building blocks for Army's football future is the United States Military Academy Prep School. While Navy and Air Force football programs have used their prep schools effectively over the past decade the same can't be said of Army.

Former coach Todd Berry underutilized and generally dismissed the value of the prep school. Bobby Ross used the prep school more effectively but there was often a lack of coordination with the prep school often running different offensive and defensive schemes than West Point which hindered development. Stan Brock overstocked the prep School and produced some excellent athletes especially in 2008 but the attrition rate was far too high. After being hired Rich Ellerson immediately realized the importance of the United States Military Academy Prep school in developing talent and preparing future Army officers for success at West Point. He coordinated the prep school's offensive, defensive systems and the strength and conditioning programs to mirror West Point's.

Tom Simi was appointed to run the United States Military Academy Prep school football program. Simi is a hardworking, affable option guru who was a great choice to lead the program. Simi, a graduate of Eastern Oregon University, was an assistant coach from 1997 through 2001 at his alma mater. Most of that time he served as an assistant under former head coach, current Black Knights offensive coordinator, Ian Shields. Simi has a thorough understanding of the Army offensive system and terminology. Before becoming the head coach at USMAPS Simi had been a successful assistant then head coach at Feather River Junior College in California. In 2008 Simi led Feather River to a post-season bowl game. They were among the conference leaders in scoring and rushing offense running a triple option scheme.

In his second season at the prep school head coach, Simi seems to be in complete sync with Rich Ellerson. Simi prepares and develops the new football recruits the staff sends his way to handle the challenges of academy life. Simi described the last year's prep class as a very good group that was able to come together as a team. This team featured Rich Ellerson's staff first full recruiting cycle at West Point. This class is a lot faster and deeper than the 2009 prep squad. Overall Simi felt the 2010 team was extremely hardworking, enthusiastic and a very coachable team. Tom felt it was "a very good year and if we beat Navy Prep, I would have said it was a great year."

The 2010 United States Military prep team averaged 36.5 points per game and finished the year with a 7-3 record. That victory total included a huge win over prep powerhouse Milford Academy. The 54-53 shootout victory over Milford Academy was impressive since 21 players on Milford's roster earned scholarships this year. It was Milford's only loss last season. Like the Army Black Knights last year, USMAPS fine season was tempered by suffering two disappointing losses to rivals Air Force Prep and Navy Prep. Navy Prep defeated USMAPS 28-24 on a touchdown pass with 50 seconds left. Simi, who has coached teams to post season on the junior college level, said it was the most devastating loss in his coaching career. Even months later as he discussed the Navy Prep's final drive it was obvious how disappointed he was that for his players that they failed to win the Reasoner Trophy.

Simi works as closely as possible with coach Ellerson and the coordinators during the season since the West Point staff can have no contact with the players. He provides weekly reports and game films to the Army staff. He sends reports on the progress of players academically, socially and their attitude on and off the field. Players attend USMAPS to prepare academically for the rigors of West Point. On the field Simi is responsible for developing their talents but the focus for the football team at USMAPS is still on winning and operating as a team. Coach Simi believes that teaching winning habits and getting them to develop as a team is part of his mission. While USMAPS plays a large number of players for evaluation purposes and to get them on film he doesn't believe being a developmental program is contradictory to playing to win.

Every year at USMAPS a number of Army football players, after graduating and being commissioned as second lieutenants, serve as football graduate assistants at the prep school. Simi praised this past year's graduate assistants for doing a great job. The graduate assistants serve as mentors and help prep recruits adapt to the transition of being in the military. At the prep school there are only two full time coaches including Simi. The graduate assistants serve a vital role in coaching individual positions. He especially praised former Army quarterback Carson Williams for doing a terrific job working with USMAPS quarterback Angel Santiago in teaching him the system and how to be an option quarterback.

Simi believes the prep team leaving Fort Monmouth for the West Point post is a positive move. He thinks it will provide the players a better sense of what they are a part of and increase their sense of belonging. The Prep School attrition rate was a lot lower this past season than it was in Simi's first season. The 2009 Army Prep team lost many of its most talented and potential impact players before they ever stepped foot in Michie Stadium. In discussing the 2010 prep team that is currently dealing with Beast Barracks, Simi feels the Army staff did a great job evaluating this recruiting class and that they meshed as a team. Most of the credit goes to the players who Tom referred to "as a great group of kids."

Simi believes the graduate assistants serve a vital role in mentoring the prep players from basic training through graduation from USMAPS. When a player is unsure about military life and thinking about leaving the prep school, Simi speaks to him one on one but also makes sure that the player receives consul from other voices especially the graduate assistants. He believes it's important that graduate assistants lend an ear and provide background for player unsure if academy and military life is right for them. He wants to make sure if a player is going to leave he will be comfortable with that decision to walk away in a coming weeks, months and years. The last thing he wants to see happen is that a recruit "makes a permanent decision [to leave USMAPS} over a temporary problem. We do the best we can to give them consul and guidance since it is a hard path." Simi's said the improvement in attrition can be traced to the process Ellerson implemented. Ellerson makes sure nothing is hidden from these players. They are educated recruits and they understand the process and destination of eventually graduating from West Point and being commissioned as Army officers.

In regard to last year's USMAPS team, as stated before, Simi feels he has sent a very good group to West Point. On offense Simi was a huge fan of last year's starting quarterback Angel Santiago. He describes Angel as very quick, very explosive and a very talented runner with the ball. Simi was very proud of his development as a triple option quarterback. He thinks Angel is "a great leader, tough kid and a no excuses type of player". Simi says that Larry Dixon, the new incoming fullback, "is a phenomenal athlete. Larry is totally committed to being the best he can be and is a total team player. He so thick yet he just much more athletic than you would think". He discussed that USMAPS produced some fast, talented A and C-Backs this past year in Trenton Turentine, Stephen Fraser, Marcus Jackson and Ryan Morgan. At wide receiver he described Chevaugh Lawrence as "very talented and a great kid. He made a number of critical plays to help us win games". He states the staff at Army is very excited about Lawrence.

Simi coaching background is mostly been as an offensive line coach. Last year's USMAPS linemen impressed him with their ability. They played as he coached them according to his longtime offensive line motto of "Low, mean and fast". Tom flatly states center Ryan Powis was the best player last season at the prep school regardless of position.

On the defensive side of the ball, Simi says the player Army fans should watch is Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon. He is an instinctive linebacker with 4.56 speed in the forty yard dash and shows sideline-to-sideline range. Geoff was the USMAPS Defensive MVP last season. Cornerback Marques Avery, according to Tom, missed most of last season because he was injured but is "super fast and was one of the fastest kids on the West Coast [when he was recruited]". Free safety Hayden Pierce impressed Simi right away. "Hayden is very smart, very athletic, a great leaper and a very good football player".

With the 2011 Prep team recently concluding the first prep school R-day at West Point, coach Simi will once again soon have the opportunity to mold Army's latest football recruits. Coach Simi is starting the process to once again do what he does best. Preparing the USMAPS players to be successful at West Point next year and beyond on and off the field. Top Stories