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October 21, 2011

Five key questions about Army

The Black Knights of Army come to Nashville in hopes of extending their winning streak over Vanderbilt to two games. To find out more about Army, we asked GoBlackKnights.com's Charles Grevious five key questions about the team he covers.


1. The recruiting and signing process for the service academies is quite different that it is for the rest of the FBS. In fact, I don't think signing classes are even announced on signing day as it is for everyone else. Can you tell us about how Army goes about recruiting players, and how that is synchronized with the university's admissions and recruiting process?

All three service academies recruit differently than most colleges and universities. Army's admissions process is vastly different and usually much more tedious than its civilian competitors. However, Army and Navy are very similar in its approaches.

First, the sport coach must identify talent and generate interest. Since Army is national [university], that means its coaches are spread far thinner and deal with much more volume than a coach from a state university who concentrates on a local area.

College recruiters may venture into hotbeds like Houston, Florida, or California, but most stay within a six-hour radius of the campus. Identifying talent and generating interest is much the same as for Army's civilian counterparts. Although most sports use some commercial lists such as the PSAT, Rivals, etc., each of Army's coaches are designated a specific geographic region that they are responsible for, and they have a back-up coach who does much of the initial telephone follow-up.

After identifying a candidate that they would wish to recruit, they must prescreen the recruit for academic viability, medical qualifications, and legal/moral qualifications. Remember that over 90 percent of today's youth does not qualify legally or medically or academically.

Interest in West Point has been very high over the past few years, with over 12,000-13,000 files opened each year. There are another 2000-3000 applications that don't even get opened because of obvious disqualifications. That, and Army's very high retention rate, has forced West Point to reduce the size of the incoming class. Bottom line, the competition for admissions slots is very fierce.

Then the coach presents the file to the Admissions Support office in the Directorate of Intercollegiate Athletics who screens it again and begins working with the high school, the candidate, and the recruiting coach to build a file for admissions. Not only do they gather all the required admissions documents but also gather documents (AP exams, letters of recommendation, teacher's evaluations) that bolster the files to overcome possible academic objections.

The file is then presented to the Admission Committee for Qualification. Remember that EVERY file must be qualified by the Admissions Committee before an offer can be presented. Highly talented recruits go through the same scrutiny as the rest of the candidates.

Simultaneously, the recruit must pass a medical examination, pass a six-event fitness assessment and garner a nomination from a senator or member of congress.

The medical standards are much tougher than a normal college or even military physical and often create a tense time for both the coach and the recruit as a medical waiver is being processed. Admissions Support can help process medical waivers for minor problems, but all three hurdles must be overcome.

A police-records check is also conducted before the candidate can report for Reception Day ("R-Day"). Of course, felonies and most misdemeanors will disqualify a candidate. However, even a $300 traffic ticket or a suspension from school might get a candidate disqualified.

After the official offer of admission is tendered and Accepted by the recruit, there may still be situations that may cause the offer to be withdrawn. Poor grades in the final semester, arrests, expulsions, or even injuries may cause the offer to be withdrawn or postponed until the injury is healed.

You can see why Army coaches are on pins and needles until the kid finally takes the oath on R-Day. Most teams do not release their class until after R-Day and some even wait until the candidates complete cadet basic training.


2. Much like Vanderbilt, Army had a long drought without a bowl that recently ended (in the Black Knights' case, it was last season). That seems to be a credit to coach Rich Ellerson, who did it in his second season at Army. Is there a general sense that Ellerson has the program headed in the right direction, and if so, why?

Simply put, Rich Ellerson is married to the idea of what West Point stands for, it's mission and goals. Hence, he embellishes and has worked diligently to ensure that there is a direct relationship with the Corp of Cadets and the members of the Army football team.

In the past, that has not always been the case. Ellerson's resume tells an even more committed story to his passion for Army football and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Where most college coaches seem to have forgotten the oath to not just develop football players, but men, Ellerson embodies that idea and has translated to early success on the field with his players and off the field, with those same young men as West Point Cadets.

West Point is not foreign to Ellerson, where he grew up on Army football. His father is a West Point grad and as a youngster, the Army mentor was exposed to the lifestyle of an Army family.


3. Army threw seven times for six yards in a win vs. Northwestern, followed three times for zero yards against Ball State and three times for 70 vs. Tulane. It then threw eight times for 124 last week against Miami (Ohio), and quarterback Trent Steelman seemed to hint this week that the Black Knights may continue to throw a little more. Will there be a minor change in philosophy here?

As noted by Trent Steelman himself this week, the evolution of Army's passing game is a reflection the offense's development in this area. "It's definitely an increase in the maturity level (Army's passing offense)," says Steelman. "Not only that, but it's building confidence, where we have confidence that the passing game is going to be there and that we are going to have those types of opportunities."

The Black Knights have quality receivers in Davyd Brooks, Chevaugh Lawrence, Anthony Stephens, Jared McFarlin and Austin Barr, but the passing game within Army's triple option offense will always be a by-product of the rushing attack, not the other way around.


4. Sophomore running back Raymond Maples has amassed three-straight 100-yard games. Is he an emerging star, or just the product of a system that by nature spits out productive runners?

I'm not sure that any system within itself actually just spits out productive runners or everyone else would be jumping on the bandwagon. That said, Raymond Maples is an emerging star who has the ability to be equally effective running between guard and tackle as he is on taking a pitch on the perimeter. Very seldom does he go down on the initial hits.

On the other hand, part of his continued positive production has something to do with opposing teams keying in on 2010 1,000 yard rusher, fullback Jared Hassin. Although most teams and rightfully so focus on Maples' running ability, he is without question the most fierce blocker on the perimeter for the Black Knights.


5. It's easy to focus on Army's offense because of its unique style, but what can you tell us about the Black Knights' defense? What is its strengths and weaknesses, and which players should we watch?[/db]

The Army defense is an enigma. After losing close to seven starters, the exceptions weren't overly high for 2011. Then, losing two additional starters during spring practice has officially moved the defense into the "youth movement" mode.

This defense has played well against Northwestern, San Diego State and Tulane. Conversely, teams that the Black Knights appeared to be favored to beat, the defense just didn't show up.

As the team heads into the second half of the season, the hope is that they are no longer a young crew, but a defense that has now started to develop its own true identity. The key player to this defense is linebacker and captain,Steve Erzinger, who is 12th in the nation in total tackles.


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