Elon Takes New Approach in Recruiting
By Russell V.
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Elon head coach Jason Swepson is determined to move the Phoenix back towards the top of the Southern Conference.
The first two years at Elon have been far from a cake walk for head coach Jason Swepson.
Since his introduction as the school’s 20th head football coach back in 2011, the Phoenix have struggled, finishing near the bottom of the conference both years. But Swepson believes he has figured out how to turn things around, starting with his most recent recruiting class.
“We focused on size pretty much right when the season ended,” he said. “I felt like we ended the season with a lot of injuries. We finished with both offensive and defensive lines playing walk-ons, so we changed our recruiting philosophy and had to get our offensive and defensive lines squared away.
“I felt like we got pushed around towards the end (of the season). So our focal point was bringing in offensive and defensive linemen. We brought in six out of the 14 scholarship kids (as) linemen. Three kids average about 6’4”, 275 (pounds), with two tackles and a center. On the defensive line, we had two speed rush ends with size and a nose tackle. We average about 6’3½”, 255 pounds. So we did a great job securing the trenches, so to speak. Very confident in those six young men that they are going to continue our foundation building here.”
The best of those six players is offensive lineman Dakota DeYont. A 6’3”, 290 pounder from Tallahassee, Florida, DeYont was rated as a two-star prospect by both Rivals.com and Scout.com and helped Lincoln High School to a 2010 state title and a 2012 runner-up. With his talent, he has a chance to see playing time as a freshman.
On top of that, the team has able to get some solid looking defensive backs in Adrian Williams – a two-star prospect according to Rivals who finished his senior campaign with 56 tackles and four interceptions – and Asunji Maddox, who coach Swepson is particularly ecstatic to have on his squad.
“The one I’m probably most excited about is (safety) Asunji Maddox, who I think is a born leader,” he said. “He’s shown his blitzing ability coming from the safety position and also can cover man-to-man. He took ownership in this class. He helped recruit this class. And like I said, I think he’s going to be a captain for us. I think he’s going to be a great ambassador, and I think he’s going to be a great leader of that class.
“The old staff at NC State was there and knowing Coach O’Brien, they would’ve found a scholarship for that kid, because his leadership skills are just tremendous and he’s a great football player.”
Meanwhile, quarterback and wide receiver were two positions at which Swepson tried hard to recruit talent, and in JuCo transfer Trevor Vasey, Demetrious Oliver and Demitri Allison, he got just that.
“(Vasey’s) father is the head coach at Dean College and watching this kid over the years, he’s a Rhode Island kid,” Swepson said of the quarterback. “So we knew him in high school and just knew he needed to develop a little bit. I truly believe if he stayed another year at Dean College, he would’ve been a major college prospect. Good thing for us is his father wanted him out. 'He needs to break away from me,’ and I said, ‘Ok Coach, we’ll take him.’ So I think we got lucky, we got a good one there.”
As for his wide receivers, Oliver and Allison, both look like they could be sleepers for an Elon program that has a solid history of producing star receivers in recent years. Allison had over 1,000 yards receiving in both his junior and senior years, while Oliver finished 2012 with 39 catches for 648 yards and five touchdowns. Both earned Shrine Bowl invitations for their efforts. Oliver had a lot of MAC schools approach him late in the recruiting process and Swepson feels “real solid on him.” As for Allison, Swepson believes he has a strong chance to come in and play early.
But there are more things at play for Elon than just the recruits. The Phoenix are starting to get more bodies into camp and are keeping their staff together for the most part.
“Talent-wise, the staff stayed pretty much intact,” Swepson said. “We lost (defensive coordinator Ed) Pinkham late in the recruiting process, but we just feel we are doing our homework and getting to know these kids and we’re bringing in character kids. Like I said, we had a class of 40 last year when it was all said and done, and we only lost two walk-ons. Every single scholarship kid is returning and 20 of the 22 walk-ons are still here. We are really doing our research and making sure that we are bringing in the right kid to Elon.
“I think we upgraded the overall speed and size of this program. And most of all is the numbers – last year at this time, getting ready for spring ball, we only had 59 guys on the roster. Right now, we have 80. To play this game at a higher level and to compete against the state schools that don’t have problems with numbers, that was something we had to fix first. … I think we’ve accomplished that. Now we've got some size and down here in the south, we can always get speed.”
On top of that, the team has been able to institute a true offseason strength and conditioning program for the first time under Swepson, which should give Elon a major boost late in the season.
“I feel like with the new strength coach we hired a year ago at this time, that’s what really hurt us (last year),” he said. “We hired a guy early, and then two weeks later he left to go to South Carolina and then we didn’t hire Eric Cash until mid-March, so we missed a whole winter conditioning program and you can’t do that nowadays.
“The year before that, I got hired and we didn’t really have a strength and conditioning program that year with the change. I just feel the last two years with the conditioning, there was no structure. … Already I can see the differences, being a month in the weight room, so I feel good."
Swepson expects to see those strength and conditioning results pay dividends on te field this fall.
“We were in every game in the second half (last season), but then got injured or just weren’t strong enough,” Swepson added. “I think we've got a chance to do some good things next year with this young, young football team.”
Elon University is beginning to establish a name and reputation for itself under Coach Swepson. Now, he will try and build upon that reputation and turn Elon into the football powerhouse the third-year coach believes it can be.
“The name Elon University is strong in the Northeast," he said. “Obviously, with my ties in the Northeast, our offensive coordinator Chris Pincince has ties in the Northeast, it just makes it a natural fit. We really feel like Elon is a Northeast school in the South. … We’re making an effort to recruit those areas, especially with some of those old Northeast FCS schools dropping football – there’s a little niche up there. We’re battling New Hampshire and Maine and the Patriot League and the Ivy League, and we feel like we can recruit against those schools. I’m not saying I don’t feel like we can do it down in the South, but there’s a lot of good football players out there in the Northeast that have nowhere to go.
“And then in Ohio, you only have Youngstown State," he continued. “Now, they have some great Division II programs in the state of Ohio and lot of those kids could probably play in the SoCon. Coach Ayers from Wofford is from Ohio and he does a great job of recruiting his home state.
“Being a private institution with high academic standards, you've got to have a nice recruiting base and I just don’t want to be a regional recruiting school anymore.”