Since Mike Elston played his college football at the University of Michigan and has spent his entire coaching career in the Great Lakes State (Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan), I assumed recruiting Cincinnati was somewhat unfamiliar territory for the ex-linebacker and this staff, but that isn't the case. "I actually have recruited in the city of Cincinnati and quite a few of our coaches have done that as well so we're pretty familiar with the state of Ohio between Joe Tresey (defensive coordinator) and myself. We also had Greg Forest (quarterbacks coach), brought Kerry Coombs in and Tim Hinton stayed on so there's quite a few guys that have a good connection with the state of Ohio. Walking into those high schools wasn't difficult at all. The biggest challenge was getting here on December 7th and having only four guys on staff with one of those being the head coach. Three of us hit the road trying to make good decisions on who to take. That was probably the biggest challenge. Plus, it‘s very time consuming trying to find out about their academics, character, and citizenship. We want good players and good people."
After taking a close look at the Cincinnati football recruiting class of 2007, it's clear academics are important to Brian Kelly's staff. Coach Elston reemphasized that point. "Academics are the first thing we look at. The primary reason these kids go to college is to get an education. If they're unable to academically succeed in college, we bypass them immediately. There are some players we will turn away immediately because of academics, and that is the charge of our head football coach. That is also the charge of our athletic director. If you look across the board of this class, there are outstanding academics, and that will continue to be the theme here."
Bearcat Insider felt Drew Frey from Clinton Massie High School had all the tools to be a very good Division IA football player, Coach Elston agreed with our assessment and explained how Frey became a Bearcat. "Tim Hinton brought me his film as we were getting ready to leave for our bowl game. He's the kind of guy Brian Kelly and our staff has had a tremendous amount of success with. He's a tall, rangy kid that runs very well and is very physical. He's also a smart kid. The downfall to his recruiting may have been people were trying to pigeonhole him to a position, but we don't do that. If he's big enough, fast enough and tough enough, we'll find a spot for players like that. That's what we saw on the film, and I took it immediately to Coach Kelly. Coach feel in love with him and said all we had to do was check out his size and get him in here. He checked out, and to me he was an easy recruit for us because of his versatility and intelligence."
As fans try to evaluate a recruiting class, one of their most common questions is-"Who else offered him?" The Bearcats signed a handful of players that had no other Division IA scholarship offers. What does Coach Elston say to those UC fans? "We have a unique approach on how we look at kids. Some profile kids and an offensive linemen needs to be 6' 5", he needs to be 300 pounds, and he needs to run a certain speed. Well, that's a tough kid for us to get so we take a different approach. We might go after the kid that's 6' 5" and 240 pounds and put him with a strength coach we know is outstanding. He develops them into that blue-chip player that everyone is looking for, and then he can compete with anyone on the field. We'll continue to take that type of player, and some of them may not be recruited by others which is great for us. We'll lock them up early. We also want players that want to be Bearcats."
With internet message board rumors of current UC players possibly leaving the program for one reason or another, Coach Elston was asked to address that point. "I would hope that none would leave. We're certainly not encouraging that, but we're going to press them to be the best they can be. I can't imagine anyone wanting to leave."
As Cincinnati's recruiting coordinator and being an ex-Wolverine that played in front of 100,000 fans on a weekly basis, how much does Cincinnati's attendance problems hurt the staff's ability to recruit? "We had the same issue at Central Michigan three years ago. Fans are fickle all over the country. If you're not winning; they aren't coming, and that's not new to Cincinnati fans. They want to see a good product on the field, and not that it hasn't been a good product, but if we put that good product out there, we can hopefully start to build this thing. But attendance does play a big factor in recruiting. We're going to bring recruits to games, and we want a good crowd for them to see. It plays a major part in recruiting."
In college football, many staffs share the responsibilities of the special teams, but Coach Elston is in charge of all special teams at Cincinnati. This is a great strategy, and Coach Elston explained why. "The special teams coordinator is like the offensive coordinator and the defensive coordinator. There needs to be one voice. A guy that stands up in front of the group and explains what we need to do-the keys to victory in that segment of the game, and they (players) need to consistently hear that throughout the season. If you shuffle that around to different guys, it's not as affective in motivating guys to play well. You can motivate and teach them, and they will play hard for the coordinator."
Coach Elston also promised that the special teams will be aggressive just like Coach Kelly's offense. "The special teams are a direct reflection of the head coach so never forget that. He makes all the decisions on any fakes we do. You will see a similar style of special teams, the same as we utilize on offense. We ran many fakes at Central Michigan, and we run a pretty wild punt team. We want to keep everybody on their toes."
Finally, Coach Elston was asked about walk-ons. Schools can have as many as twenty. "There are very good walk-ons already on this football team. The previous staff did a great job of getting guys in here that are loyal to the program, very dedicated, and very good football players. It's going to be very difficult deciding who to keep and who to bring in. With this signing class, we'll be close to the 105. (A program can have no more than 105 players on its roster.) It's going to be very competitive, and some guys have already been invited to be a ‘preferred.' One of the guys we can comment about, Tommy DeTemple. He's had written acceptance to the University. He's a long snapper from Moeller High School. There's some other guys we can't comment on right now because they haven't received written acceptance to school yet. They'll probably be 6 or 7 guys (preferred walk-ons) in this class of 2007."
Bearcat Insider wants to thank Coach Elston for taking the time to speak with us today.