June 17, 2011

Black Knights not backed into a corner

They don't get the exposure or recognition ... and perhaps they aren't quoted as often the Head Coach or even the respective coordinators. But the position coaches are truly the backbone of any college football program.

They are often the voice, along with the eyes and ears of the Head Coach and it the case of the Black Knights of Army, that would be 3rd year mentor, Rich Ellerson.

With R-Day right around the corner, which means summer practice will soon follow ... GoBlackKnights.com is kicking off our series of conversation/interviews with several of the position coaches for Army, starting with Cornerback Coach, Tony Coaxum ...

... While there are still holes to fill on defense, there's no need to bring any shovels to the cornerback spots.

Experience and an energetic mix of youth should have the last line of defense holding its own this coming football season.

"I'm excited,'' cornerbacks coach Tony Coaxum told GBK on Friday. "Aside from (linebacker Steve) Erzinger and (defensive end Jarrett) Mackey, I'll have the most experience back there.''

The Crew

Senior Antuan Aaron and junior Josh Jackson will go into camp as starters. Junior Waverly Washington, who had an impressive spring, joins incoming prep grad Marques Avery as the likely backups.

"I'm excited about those two,'' Coaxum said of the projected starters. "The others will lean on those guys and they will be vocal leaders. They've played a lot of football.''

Coaxum is especially high on the young Avery, whom he calls the prototype corner, "On any level,'' he said. "He's a legit 6-1 and can run. He's long and tall, and that's a rare combination for a cornerback. He has all the tools. I'm very excited about him.

"When you have four guys you're comfortable with, that's a good luxury to have. Corner is one of the most explosive positions out there,'' he added.

"You can do everything right and still get beat.''

There is more where that comes from. Also arriving from the prep are Issac Winters, Marcus Jackson and Lamar Johnson-Harris.

"We're excited about the young guys coming in,'' Coaxum said. "The prep class coming up here is not only talented, but they get it. They get what West Point is. They get Army football, and they're going to excel - not only on the field but as cadets.

"They're a tight-knit group and they're not wavering.''

Time To Step Up

Some might suggest this year's defense will waver, an uneven ship in a storm of a difficult schedule. Coaxum, however, suggests the season's seas may not necessarily prove to be so severe. "We have miles and miles of molded clay that you can really groom and shape. We're gonna be young,'' he pointed out. "We're losing a lot of guys who played a lot of football. But we will have better athletes than we've had. But they're gonna be green and raw.

"There is potential there to be really good,'' he added. "But it depends on how quickly they pick up the system; how quickly they adapt. But they have a chance to be very good.''

Once again the term "athleticism'' arises, and that, Coaxum reminds us, means that players can be switched to new positions, which will result in filling holes and creating depth.

Such an advantage has not existed in the recent past. "You never know,'' Coaxum said. "We could bring in a running back, and if the position is loaded he could move to the other side. That's what we did with (receiver) Marcus Jackson.

"The last two years recruiting has been drastically different. When I first got here (2007) we recruited more specific. Basically we brought in guys we needed at certain positions, and if things didn't work out they were kind of stuck there. Now, I don't want to say generic, but you can have guys transfer (to another position), which gives us more flexibility and more freedom. So that overall makes the team that much more athletic.

"Your team is never perfectly aligned,'' he added. "You're always short something at some position, and now we can fish guys out where we need 'em. I think that's the biggest thing coach Ellerson has done, improved the athleticism of the entire team.''

One of the most productive aspects of last year's defense was creating turnovers. Army ranked third nationally in fumble recoveries (26 forced, 16 recovered), was among the top 50 in interceptions and 29th overall in total defense. "We want to reinforce what we did last year and lead the nation in turnovers. That's a great equalizer,'' Coaxum said. "When all is said and done, let's get the ball back to our offense as fast as we possibly can, and watch them work.''

Full Circle

Coaxum knows of what he speaks. A 2000 West Point grad, he was a defensive back for the Black Knights. After graduation he was an athletic intern and helped out coaching at the prep school.

Commissioned in the Field Artillery branch, he went on to Fort Bragg for four years, during which time he did volunteer coaching at a nearby high school. After leaving the Army he coached two years (2005-06) at a high school in Georgia.

His break on the college level came when a coach at the Point left and he received a phone call from long-time Army assistant John Mumford.

Coaxum grew up in a military family. His mom was in the Navy, his dad in the Air Force and an uncle served in the Marines.

Serving was something he always wanted to do. His interest in coaching really never entered his mind until volunteering during his stint at Bragg.

Now he seems to be a lifer of another sort, and shares the enthusiasm of the youngest players. "The prep kids are really tight,'' he said, "and they're bringing some energy and a brotherhood they started down there. We just want them to come in and play. Don't get caught up with who you're playing or who's across from you. Guys aren't going to be blown away (in) the moment, and that started last year with those seniors.

"They taught them just to be focused, and that permeates through our team. We're gonna play together and we're gonna play harder than anybody else. Mentally, that's our mantra, and I'm looking forward to it.''




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