Interview with Rich Ellerson: Part IV

Last season Rich Ellerson coached the Black Knights to its first winning season in fourteen years in just his second season as head coach. Recently I spoke with Ellerson regarding the upcoming 2011 season. In this installment he discusses the special teams and recruiting.

ArmySports.com: On special teams who's in the lead for the punting job?
Rich Ellerson: Kolin [Walk].

ArmySports.com: Last year you did the rugby style punt which was very effective. The punt team gave up only one return longer than six yards all year. Do you plan to use the rugby style punt this year?
Rich Ellerson: Oh sure. We do it. That's just part and parcel of what we do. We do a little bit of that. We're not exclusive into it but we will do it.

ArmySports.com: Who's going to return punts and kick offs?
Rich Ellerson: JJ [Josh Jackson] is our returning punt returners. The guys I like, I mentioned Marcus Jackson who's going to be in that mix. Kick offs are a little bit more problematic. We had Ray Maples back there at different times. We're still open there though.

ArmySports.com: Last year when we discussed recruiting you mentioned about the staff's learning curve about recruiting at West Point and the need to find your recruiting voice. In 2009 you recruited some players that went to prep but left last year and played well as freshman other programs. You targeted the right players but maybe not the right people for West Point. This year all the impact players from the 2010 prep made it to R-day. Why do you think was the attrition rate so low?
Rich Ellerson: We're recruiting guys the right way. The 2009 class that went down there [to the prep school] we threw that class together at the eleventh hour. As you know we rolled in here in January [after Ellerson was hired] and some of those guys were guys that were recruited and identified by the previous coaching staff. From an evaluation standpoint, because of the offense and defense, we have to evaluate a little bit differently because the offense and defense is a little bit different. What we are looking for is a little bit different than what some of our contemporaries are looking for. So we can't get caught up in who everyone thinks is a good player. The ideal we are looking for is someone different. We're encouraged that we're able to identify a group of those guys and we're able to present our institution and the destination that our institution provides, in other words, a young Lieutenant. Beginning with the destination when you graduate and working backwards from there was an especially efficient way to recruit. It was modeled, what we're talking about, internally and it reflects the voice on our football team internally. It also prepares guys for success. Your recruiting model is inexorably tied to your retention model. If you recruited guys with the right kinds of expectations they'll prosper. They'll find a team here that they were expecting, that they were looking forward to being a part of. They will come to an institution that has a mission. It is engaged in a mission that they bought into on the front end of the process. They become as expert as they can as a 17 or 18 year old young man. Certainly there is an awful lot of growth and a lot of surprises. Generally speaking that model paid off, I thought, really tremendously.

ArmySports.com: We discussed the move from Fort Monmouth to West Point of the prep school. Now that the prep school is on post how do you feel about the move and the facility?
Rich Ellerson: I do agree that's it's a spectacular infrastructure that they're [the prep players] going to have. It's going to be wonderful. We may have a few at bats here coming out the gate that we won't like, as we find out where the rough spots are, but I think in the end it can be a huge positive for us. Those relationships [with the prep team] are kept at arm's length until such times that we are allowed to engage with them. That being said, we all understand where the line is and we keep finding there are opportunities to screw it up. We are on guard and we have a lot of people looking over our shoulder to make sure we don't do anything silly. The biggest thing is how much better those guys might be prepared because of their proximity to the larger institution. I'm not talking about football players. I'm talking about cadet candidates because of their proximity to West Point. That proximity should give that experience to be more spot on terns for its preparation for success at West Point. The recruiting process, it makes sense, it is more spot on. From the recruit perspective they get it. They know what you're talking about instead of just looking at some pictures and trying to visualize what that place must be like.

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