WEST POINT, N.Y. – The Army football team will open its 2009 season, Saturday at Eastern Michigan. Kickoff for the debut of Army head coach Rich Ellerson is set for 7 p.m. at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Mich.
No television coverage is planned for the game but fans will have several ways to follow along with the action. The Army Sports Network will have the audio call of the game on flagship station WABC (770-AM) as well as WALL (1340-AM) and WEOK (1390-AM), Sirius Satellite Radio (channel 91) and ITT Knight Vision. ITT Knight Vision, Army’s subscription-based multi-media platform, will offer fans a video stream from Eastern Michigan as well as the Eagles’ radio call. Twitter updates will also be provided at www.twitter.com/ArmyAthletics.
Ellerson, who was hired as Army’s 36th head coach in December of 2008, will begin the process of restoring the Black Knights’ rich tradition Saturday evening.
Following a successful stint as head coach at Cal Poly, Ellerson came to West Point where he and his staff have installed their version of the triple-option offense and the “double-eagle flex” defense.
Fans will get their first look at the new systems Saturday when Army makes its first trip to Ypsilanti, Mich., against another coach making his debut. Ron English is in his first year at Eastern Michigan. He was the defensive coordinator at Louisville last year and held the same position at Michigan prior to that.
Army and Eastern Michigan will be meeting for the third time, with the Black Knights holding a 2-0 advantage in the series, including a 17-13 win a year ago at Michie Stadium.
The Black Knights, looking for their first season-opening win since 1996, will begin the season with a freshman at quarterback. Ellerson announced earlier this week that Trent Steelman, a USMAPS product, will take the first snap but that junior Chip Bowden and senior Carson Williams may also be utilized.
Army, coming off a 3-9 campaign, returns 31 letterwinners and 14 starters. Eastern Michigan also finished 3-9 a season ago.
A look at the matchups: QUARTERBACK Steelman (6-0, 185) is expected to make his first career start on Saturday and will become the first freshman in the modern era (since 1944) to start a season opener under center. Following a successful prep school season, Steelman showcased his speed and grasp of the offense to gain the starting nod.
Bowden (6-0, 211) is the team’s leading returning rusher, after gaining 572 yards a year ago. In 12 games, he completed 31 of 72 passes for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Williams (6-3, 212) is the most experienced quarterback on the roster with 25 games and 16 touchdowns.
Eastern Michigan boasts senior Andy Schmitt under center. A two-year letterwinner, Schmitt (6-4, 238) threw for 2,644 yards and 15 touchdowns last season with a completion percentage of 62.6. Kyle McMahon (6-3, 208), appeared in five games last year with a pair of touchdowns and 574 yards passing.
IN THE BACKFIELD The Black Knights will utilize a pair of slotbacks as well as a fullback in Elleron’s triple-option attack. Sophomore CeDarius Williams (5-11, 203) is expected to get the start at fullback with junior Kingsley Ehie (5-10, 221) as the back up. Junior Patrick Mealy (5-8, 203) rushed for two touchdowns last season and is at one slotback position with junior Jameson Carter (5-11, 187) at the other. Carter shared the team lead with 11 receptions last season and a team-best 157 receiving yards as a wide out. Sophomore George Fletcher (5-9, 200), senior Ian Smith (5-8, 180), freshman Malcolm Brown (5-11, 180) and junior Alfred McDaniel (5-6, 160) add depth.
Junior Dwayne Priest (5-9, 186) is the top returning rusher for Eastern Michigan. He played in 12 games, picked up 474 yards, averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored five times. Sophomore Corey Welch (5-9 182) rushed for 154 yards a year ago.
WIDE RECEIVERS Thanks to a position switch, Army now has the tallest wide receiver in the country in 6-10 Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva, a senior, began his Army career on defense before moving to offensive tackle in 2008. Ellerson moved the athletic Villanueva to wide receiver where he is expected to start. Senior Damion Hunter (5-10, 166) shared the team lead with Carter with 11 catches last season and will start at the other wide receiver position. Hunter caught one touchdown pass last year and had 134 receiving yards. Austin Barr (6-4, 203) and Davyd Brooks (6-3, 200) are listed as the backups.
Eastern Michigan will counter with three-wide receiver sets. Senior Jacory Stone (6-0, 2-1) started all 12 games last season and led the team with 88 catches for 943 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Dontayo Gage (5-11, 184) averaged 9.6 yards per catch last season and sophomore Marvon Sanders (5-9, 160) caught 28 passes for 253 yards. Senior tight end Ben Thayer (6-4, 23) made six catches last season.
OFFENSIVE LINE Army lacks experience on the offensive line but Ellerson is confident the slimmed down group will be effective in the new offense. Right tackle Jason Johnson (6-3, 257) is the most experienced member of the group with 16 career starts and is expected to be joined up front by right guard Seth Reed (6-1, 275), center Zachary Peterson (6-1, 267), left guard Anees Merzi (6-3, 283) and left tackle Mike McDermott (6-6, 255). Brad Kelly (6-5, 240), Mikel Weich (6-3, 277), Thomas Hagan (6-2, 259), Joe Bailey (6-2, 283) and David Ford (6-3, 250) are all listed as backups.
Three-time letterwinner Andy Fretz (6-2, 290) anchors the Eastern Michigan line from his left guard spot. Junior Dan DeMaster (6-5, 290) is the left tackle with junior Eric Davis (6-2, 280) at center. Derek Gotham (6-4, 290) and Brian Moore (6-6, 290) are on the right side.
DEFENSIVE LINE Army will utilize a 4-3 alignment as its base formation. Junior Mike Gann (6-2, 275) has recovered from an injury and will get the start at nose guard with senior Victor Ugenyi (6-3, 262) at defensive tackle. Juniors Josh McNary (6-1, 225) and Marcus Hilton (6-0, 247) will be the ends. Senior Bradley Marren (6-1, 246), sophomore Broghan Carnes (6-2, 250), sophomore Chris Swain (6-3, 260) and junior Carson Homme (6-4, 243) provides depth.
Eastern Michigan runs a similar defensive alignment. Senior Brandon Downs (6-1, 246) and sophomore Javon Reese (6-2, 230) are the ends with junior Tyler Palsrok (60-4, 265) at nose and sophomore Brad Ohrman (6-4, 244) at tackle.
LINEBACKERS Junior Stephen Anderson (5-10, 229), one of three captains along with Villanueva and Ugenyi, returns to his position at middle linebacker in the center of the Black Knights’ defense. Anderson was second on the team last year with 82 tackles and 11 tackles for loss. Sophomore whip Steve Erzinger (6-1, 215) and sophomore rover Andrew Rodriguez (6-3, 210) are expected to be with the starting unit while Chad Thayer (6-0, 198), Bill Prosko (6-2, 215), Kyler Martin (6-2, 200) and Sean Westphal (6-1, 210) also in the mix.
Eastern Michigan lists sophomore Marcus English (6-1, 216) in the middle, with senior Andre Hatchett (5-11, 211) and junior Tim Fort (6-0, 214).
SECONDARY Senior Mario Hill (6-0, 175) is the veteran member of the Army unit and will start at cornerback, alongside sophomore Antuan Aaron (5-9, 193). Donnie Dixon (6-0, 196) and junior Donovan Travis (6-1, 190) are the safeties. Juniors Desmond Lamb (6-2, 193) and Jordan Trimble (5-10, 190), senior Chase Prasnicki (6-1, 212) and freshmen Joshua Jackson (5-11, 175) and Brian Cobbs (5-11, 185) could also factor in.
The Eagles feature an experienced unit with three juniors and a senior expected to start. Johnny Sears (6-0, 189) is the senior member and is at corner, with Arrington Hicks (5-10, 170). Kevin Long (6-1, 196) and Ryan Downard (6-1, 201) are the safeties.
SPECIAL TEAMS Junior Matthew Campbell (5-9, 195) returns as Army’s placekicker after converting 8-of-12 field goals last season with a long of 42 yards. Jonathan Bulls (6-1, 217) is the new punter with Hunter Mealy and Josh Jones (6-1, 187) expected to return kicks and punts.
Eastern Michigan’s Zach Johnson (6-0, 195) returns for his senior season after averaging 36.2 yards per punt last year while Joe Carithers (6-0, 200) converted all 38 of his point after attempts and 10-of-14 field goal attempts.
UP NEXT Army will host Duke next Saturday in its home opener as part of Hall of Fame weekend. Among those being inducted into the sixth class of the Army Sports Hall of Fame that day will be former Army head men’s basketball coach and current Duke mentor Mike Krzyzewski.
Kickoff at Michie Stadium is set for noon and CBS College Sports Network will carry the game.
Season and individual game tickets are on sale now. Regular season ticket packages can be purchased for $180 per seat, which includes a parking pass. Fans can also join “Coach E’s Army,” located in sections 5 through 8A in the lower tier of Michie Stadium, for only $99. The discounted ticket package includes a specially branded “Coach E’s Army” t-shirt and a full season parking pass.
Individual game tickets for the Duke, Ball State, Vanderbilt, and VMI contests can be purchased for just $29 per seat. The Tulane game, designated as the Black Knights annual Homecoming contest, is priced at $36 per ticket.
In addition, fans can purchase a Rutgers ticket package for $49 per seat. This two-pack includes a ticket to the game versus the Scarlet Knights plus the customers’ choice of a ticket to either the Duke or VMI contests.
Ticket orders can be placed online at www.goARMYsports.com, in person at the Holleder Center Box Office, or by phone at 1-877-TIX-ARMY. Flexible payment plans are available by calling the Army ticket office.