Maryland secured a commitment from McDonogh (Owings Mills, Md.) offensive guard Ellis McKennie May 28. In order to gain a different perspective, and to offer insight, on the newest Terps pledge, Terrapin Times spoke to Eagles head coach Dom Damico.
Here's our question-and-answer session with him:
Terrapin Times: So, have to ask you right off the bat here Coach, how does it feel to send yet another McDonogh kid Maryland's way? This is three years in a row now…
Dom Damico: It's fun. It's a good pipeline going on right now. The more players that stay in state to play for their home state the better. We're supporters of the Maryland program and it's always a great thing when the local players choose the hometown school.
TT: Coach Keith Dudzinski I know has been a major presence up there at McDonogh. What's his relationship with you guys these last few years?
DD: We have a great relationship with Coach Dudzinski. He does a great job and he's a great recruiter. He's very thorough and really does well with the kids up here.
But I also think the new offensive line coach [Greg Studrawa] kind of really helped out with Ellis. There was a lot that Ellis liked about him, and I think Ellis really wants to play for him. [Studrawa's] personality, what he's done in the past, how he talked to Ellis, I think that really hit home. I was talking to Ellis in my office and I was telling him, ‘Hey, if I was an offensive lineman I think I'd want to play for that guy too.'
TT: Ellis had been hinting he would be committing to Maryland for a good while now. When did you really get the sense he would choose the Terps?
DD: Well I know he met with his family [May 28] and finalized everything. I talked to him afterwards when he came to school and told him to make sure [the decision] was thorough and he wouldn't have any reversals later on. But he said he really believed Maryland was the best place for him, not only athletically but academically. Also the proximity to his family, the chance to play in the Big Ten, the coaches there – it all led him to pull the trigger.
TT: Speaking of Ellis' family, it seems like he's a real family-first guy and the Ellises in general are very supportive. What kind of family background does he have?
DD: Oh yeah, his family is very supportive and involved with Ellis. I remember his mom, before Ellis boarded here, would drive him back and forth from Pennsylvania every day just so he could go to school here. They valued the McDonogh education and program, and they did everything possible to make sure Ellis had a great experience.
Now I'm sure his mother is very proud of Ellis and looking forward to him playing Big Ten football at Maryland. I'm sure they're all thrilled Ellis will be close to home, and I'm sure Ellis will make them all happy.
TT: In terms of what Ellis brings athletically, what areas does he excel in on the field? Can you break that down for me?
DD: Ellis has an extremely high football IQ, as well as academic IQ, and he understands concepts and picks up on things very quickly. We can throw a lot at him at once and he'll pick it up like that. He's also very big and strong and extremely athletic for being over 300 pounds. We play him at tackle, but he'll be a guard at Maryland. He runs really well, so he'll fit great at guard.
Ellis is also very physical at the point of attack, and he's versatile. He can play either side of the ball – left guard or right guard and excel. But mostly what makes him special is that he's over 300 pounds and is so athletic. You just don't see that too often in linemen at this level.
TT: And what does Ellis still need to work on in order to perform at the next level?
DD: Well one thing with Ellis is he's so young. He just turned 17, and he doesn't even drive yet. In fact I think he just took his driver's test. So he's very young for his class, and I think he'll be 18 as a freshman at Maryland. I can't imagine how high Ellis' ceiling will be with 3.5 years of weight room work and being a 20-year-old strong, athletic guard in the Big Ten. Give him a couple years in the weight room and he's going to be really, really good.
TT: Coach, you sent a lineman to the Division I level last year when Jared Cohen went to North Carolina. How does Ellis compare to Jared?
DD: Jared was more of a mauler at the point of attack. Ellis is a better athlete. He runs better, he's quicker, and you can pull Ellis and do different things with him. Jared was an excellent pass blocker and a mauler at the point of attack, whereas Ellis is more athletic and can run.
TT: I know Ellis has been starting since his sophomore year at McDonogh. But when did you first get the sense he could be an FBS lineman for you?
DD: I'll tell you, linemen are always the hardest to predict. Sometimes you see these big linemen when they first get to high school, and by their sophomore year you're like, ‘Man, I don't think they can even play in the [MIAA] A-Conference.' And then what happens is they grow into their bodies, they learn how to move around, they begin to understand their positions. Then all of a sudden you're like, ‘Whoa, this kid can play.'
And I think that's what happened for Cohen and I think that's what happened for Ellis too. In [McKennie's] sophomore year, he was sort of feeling his way, and we moved him all around and tried to find the right fit for him. But the beginning part [of his junior year] he started to really become strong at the point of attack, get to the second level, become a good pass blocker. All those things sort of clicked for him, and he really came on. Then you take the fact that he's 6-3, 300 pounds and is so athletic, and it's that rare combination that [college recruiters] are looking for.
TT: And last thing for you here Coach. Ellis seems like a very humble, hard-working kid. What kind of person is Maryland getting, and how is he around his teammates and people in general?
DD: You won't find a higher character kid than Ellis McKennie. His academics are off the chart, his character is off the chart and he's just a nice kid. I can't say a bad thing about Ellis. He's really a gentle giant around kids and around our middle school kids. He's very polite, very well spoken and very respectful.
Then on the football field there's a switch that flips, and Ellis finds that inner drive to take [his opponent] right off the field. There's not a whole lot of guys with 3.94 GPAs, high SAT scores, and are really articulate -- and then want to knock your guts out on the field. And Ellis is all those things, and it's one of the reasons he's a special kid.
So Maryland is getting a very special kid all-around -- a great player and a great person. I'm going to use him for one more year here and try to win another championship, then I'll pass him off for Terps fans to enjoy.
Coach Speak: Dom Damico on Ellis McKennie
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