October 16, 2012

Army and EMU suffer from gaps among juniors

Army coach Rich Ellerson and Eastern Michigan coach Ron English, besides sharing the same initials, are struggling with the same problem in the fourth year of trying to turn around their football programs. They could commiserate at the 50-yard line before 1-5 Army faces 0-6 Eastern Michigan of the Mid-American Conference in a 1 pm game Saturday at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti.

Both the Black Knights and Eagles have a gap on their depth charts represented by the lack of "fourth-year juniors". In the case of Eastern Michigan and as per the NCAA Clearinghouse, it would the forth-year juniors who will be in their varsity program under the 5 years to play four years designation.

While for Army, one could designate such players on the roster that have entered West Point via the USMAPS, as 4th year juniors.

Either way, that's valuable missing experience and talent needed in a football team's makeup.

And it's not hard to trace the reason: Both coaches got a late start on the 2009 recruiting class as December hires. English was named Dec. 22, 2008 and Ellerson on Dec. 26, 2008.

In modern-day recruiting, most highly rated prospects have committed before their senior season or sometime during the season.

Eastern Michigan lists only two starters who are fourth-year juniors, meaning they redshirted their first season on campus in 2009. The two starting fourth-year juniors are free safety Donald Coleman (6-0, 200) and defensive end Kalonji Kashama (6-4, 273).

"Our first (recruiting) class was 12 guys and only about three or four of those guys are playing a significant role," English said. "There is typically a gap in there. We have sophomores, like Bronson Hill, who are some of our better players and then you have you seniors. But there is a gap in between."

Army also only starts two "fourth-year juniors", which as previously mentioned in the West Point football world means they matured one year at the USMA prep school in 2009 before joining Big Army for their first varsity playing season in 2010. Army has four junior starters, but wide receiver Patrick Laird and offensive tackle Michael Kime were direct admits. The juniors from the prep school are running back Raymond Maples, who is 10th in the nation in rushing and outside linebacker Justin Trimble.

Both Eastern and Army thought they had turned the corner before this season's disappointment. Eastern Michigan improved to 6-6 in 2011 after a 2-10 mark in 2010 and 0-12 in 20009. Army won a bowl game in 2010 before slipping to 3-9 last year and now 1-5.

"I've been through this before turning around a program," said English, speaking of his days as an assistant coach at Arizona State. "You think you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and then you take a step back for whatever reason."

Despite being winless, Eastern Michigan has been competitive against a tough schedule. The combined record of the Eagles' opponents, which includes Michigan State and Purdue of the Big Ten, is 27-12.

Last week Eastern lost to a 6-1 Toledo club by a 52-47 score. Hill, the sophomore running back English spoke of, set an NCAA season rushing high for the Football Bowl Subdivision and a school record for touchdowns when he carried 28 times for 283 yards and four touchdowns. The 5-11, 208-pounder was the MAC's Offensive Player of the Week.

The Eagles also lost 41-14 two weeks ago to Kent State, which handed Army its fifth lost last week 31-17.

Also similar to Army, Eastern Michigan has a lost a one-sided game to a team ranked in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Eagles fell 31-14 to Illinois State (6-1), which is now ranked No. 11. Army lost 20-3 to Stony Brook (6-1), which is now ranked No. 10.

"What we keep preaching is the significance of being able to be where you are and to keep trying to perform and trying to win football games," English said. "We know we have some talent and ability. We're eventually going to put a full game together."

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