Erxleben, a Bowie High graduate who played college football at Frostburg, spent 10 years at South River, seven as head coach. He still teaches social studies at South River, but left the Seahawks football team after the 2010 season and moved to the Saints program to join offensive coordinator Mick Suplee.
Last season, after the Saints' coach resigned for health reasons after two games, Erxleben took over. The Saints finished 6-4, and Erxleben, 34, coached them to a 2-4 record in the conference. They missed the playoffs, but Erxleben is aiming for a berth this fall.
Last week, the Saints opened their season with a 48-31 win at St. Albans (D.C.).
Thursday night at 7:30, the Saints resume their Anne Arundel County rivalry with Archbishop Spalding as part of the 9/11 Patriot Classic at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The two did not play last season and St. Mary's last victory was in 2008, the last time the Saints won the B Conference title. The Cavaliers, who are in the A Conference, won big in 2010 and 2009.
St. Mary’s has won three B Conference titles since 2002 and shared the A Conference title in 1995 and 1996.
As this week’s football Coachspeak guest, Erxleben answers five questions about tonight’s game, the Saints and his path to coaching.
Why did you add Spalding back to the schedule this season?
One issue is that they’re an in-county private school rival. We played them for years even when they were in the B Conference. And we've tried to beef up our out-of-conference schedule. Look at a team like Boys’ Latin and Boys’ Latin has a tough out-of-conference schedule and when they get in conference, they’re already battle tested. I don’t feel as though going 2-4 in the conference is good if you want to be a playoff team. I just use [Boys' Latin] as an example. Plus, in our conference there are no second-level teams, everybody’s good and we have to be ready for them once we get in conference. That’s the difference between begin 2-4 in the conference or being 4-2 or 3-3 to make the playoffs. It’s all structured around having a better conference record. But also when the opportunity came up, what are we telling our kids if we back away from that competition? One of our goals was to be able to play an A Conference school. Now we’re meeting this goal and it’s perfect that it all worked out and we’re set to play at Navy.
How much do the players look forward to it?
Oh man, they really do. The late Mike Whittles (the Spalding coach who died of pancreatic cancer in June), I knew him, before even when I was at South River. We used to scrimmage Spalding when I was at South River. One of the things we talked about in the offseason was getting our rivalry back on, because there were a lot of people on both sides upset that we didn’t play. It’s important that you play teams like Spalding and Severn (Nov. 2), those rivalries at St. Mary’s.
What about this team do you think puts them in better position for a playoff berth this season?
We’ve just improved in all three phases especially in special teams. It was really our first year of getting the off season program going, getting the summer program going. There’s more direction than there was this time last year. This time last year, we were just feeling our way into this stuff. Now the kids know what to expect and we’ve improved in our kicking game, we’ve improved our return game. We’re ready to take the next step in being more balanced, not just relying totally on Nate Lewnes. Now we’ve got five and six and seven weapons because our skill positions are so much better, the best we’ve ever had and we’ve been running this offense for a while now. That allows us to do more. And our defense is staying consistent, getting off blocks and making tackles like we’ve done before.
What’s the biggest difference between coaching in the public schools and coaching in the B Conference?
The No. 1 thing is recruiting. When we’re recruiting a kid, we tell him you have on average about 250 more hours of practice in a four-year span, spring ball and stuff like that. And we don’t charge for that, so you don’t have to go to a trainer or anybody else. You can get that right here. The ability to coach your kids out of season is so much more fulfilling, because you make the kids better. They can be doing a lot of other things, but instead you get to work with them in the spring and in the summer. We do have some rules, but it’s nice to be able to work with them. The last thing I’ll add is the quality of the conference. The conference is very strong. There were opponents when we were in the public schools where we felt as though we could pretty much have a bad game and still win. In this conference you can’t do that. You’ve got to have your best game every week.
What was your path to becoming a high school football coach?
I've wanted to do this since I was 14 years old. I saw my high school football coach and I said I can do it. I’ve coached in college. I coached for a year and it was small college football, but high school is still pure. You’re still affecting kids in a positive manner. I tell our kids all the time, this organization you’re in right now is one of the most important ones of your entire life. One of your [teammates] might be your best man, might a coworker. They’re going to be someone that helps you out later in life, because the relationships you’re buliding here is something that will last forever. That’s kind of the reason I coach.