Q&A with Towson football coach Rob Ambrose

The Baltimore Sun

The positive momentum from Towson's 9-3, CAA-championship season continued last week when coach Rob Ambrose unveiled the Tigers' 19-man recruiting class. Towson signed eight Maryland natives, plus three players from Virginia's Tidewater area. There are four Division I transfers and four Baltimore-area high school standouts. There are 11 defensive players, seven offensive players and one athlete. Ambrose spoke with Recruiting Report this week about the class.

Overall, what do you like about this class?

Well, I think we upgraded ourselves in places that needed immediate improvement. The advantage of being able to do what we can do at this level vs. everyone else makes it easier to do it the right way. Getting key transfers at positions of need that add immediate help to our immediate depth is huge. To be able to survive at this level, it’s a necessity. We really did land some quality young kids that we’ll build into great players. It’s a good combination in this class.

How much of this class was compiled before your season? Was it fairly split between the offseason and during the season?

Little bit of each. The freshman part of this class, I’d say 80 percent was done before Oct. 1. We were definitely ahead of the curve.

In previous recruiting cycles you were selling kids on what could be. But after this season, you could actually point to tangible results that showed that what you had promised before was now reality. Did you stick to that pitch?

Yeah, the same story that’s been said the first couple of years. In the very beginning of the season, you started to see validation of the previous commentaries, that what we’ve been saying all along, that it’s part of the building process, that it takes time but they’re the foundation of it. We’ve surrounded ourselves with kids who could believe in what would be, who know exactly what it is. To be able to have that kind of success that we had, it’s validation. It makes you truthful.

Did you have to change your sales pitch in recruiting because of the program's success? 

No, not at all. That’s the cool thing about it – to be able to stay consistent, be honest and tell a true story. It feels great. Everyone has known forever that this place could always be this. And everybody wanted to buy in, but just never had the opportunity. It was always something. This year has given guys a reason to come home, a reason to believe. The best thing about this recruiting class, if I could sum it up in word, is ‘validation.’

How much did the 2011 season pay off in terms of convincing kids who might have been longshots in the past?

Not so much with the incoming freshmen, but the transfer guys. I can’t tell you the number of kids we recruited in the past that really liked us, we really liked them, and they wanted to believe but they didn’t believe. And then when we play them, sure enough, these guys would come up after and say, ‘Coach, I should’ve listened, I should’ve come to you.’ It’s another validation for us. But as far as the transfer list, our list was ridiculously extensive. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in the selection process. The guys we have now are the guys we select – good fits, good players, good people, good students. It’s definitely an upgrade.

You have the four Division I transfers, and Givens, especially, was a big name coming out of high school. How did you land him?

It’s the same as a lot of those guys. They come out of high school with potential, and everybody there has got the potential and skills to make it to the next level. Then you start over. It’s a growing process for a lot of kids, definitely. All kids are different. I actually recruited [Givens] out of high school, and he remembers me from when he was a sophomore. This is home. This is a good recruiting base. A lot of kids haven’t had a lot of good reasons to stay home. Rutgers was a good experience for him. But he knew that that’s not what he wants out of life. I think he’s got a great opportunity to be very successful. The level of football doesn’t matter. I think recruiting at this level is harder. You have to recruit guys like this, knowing full well that he’s going to a big BCS program, but you have to recruit him for the relationship. The reason these kids are back – every one of these kids has some kind of tie to the area, to the school, or to myself from previous recruiting experiences. Those relationships, when things don’t go exactly as planned and they leave and go far away, they’re looking for a reason to come home and win and have an opportunity. They’re looking for people they trust.

Love was another highly rated guy. What does he bring to the table?

Tremendous experience. And physically, he’s played against legitimately the best competition on the planet for a couple of years – both in-house and opposing teams. But life in Georgia is a little bit different than life in the Mid-Atlantic. Love’s a Mid-Atlantic kid who will finish school in an area where he can excel post-college. He’s another one of those personal relationship kids.

All four of your Division I transfers have local ties. Givens is from Southern Maryland, Ben Harvey's from Columbia, Brendon Gannon played at Cardinal Gibbons and Love spent time at Gilman. How did you position Towson to be the landing spot of choice for these kids?

I think that’s probably the best example of where we are. It’s not like we go pilfering from Division I programs. They reach out to us. But our success has allowed the lines of communication to be bigger and better. They definitely come searching now. We’re not the last choice; we’re the first choice. I’ve said at the Maryland state coaches association, we should have a wall around the Maryland. The only reason a kid doesn’t go to Maryland or here or Morgan is we don’t have enough openings for them. That should be the only time they leave. We need to position the state of Maryland nationally. You do that, first and foremost, with the kids that are from here. You stand and protect your hometown. And when they leave home, down the road we have a chance to bring these kids back home, which is huge. It’s not just Towson, but it’s about the state’s best and brightest coming home.

Which guys in this class are you looking for immediate contributions from?

I would say the transfers. The competition in the back seven for us is pretty interesting, in that we were very young to begin with. We graduated one and we have no depth. We went from being young and a little inexperienced and not very deep to being older, much more experienced and having much more depth. Jordan and Darrell have a chance to compete right away, and even Harvey. Those three are going to make impacts, potentially immediately.

Rob Chesson is a guy that a lot of people around here are very familiar with after his record-breaking season at Old Mill. How did you sort of outlast the FBS schools and finally land him?

That’s the difficulty of recruiting this level. You go find a kid who’s got the talent he has, and you’re recruiting him just like Michigan’s recruiting him. And you just don’t go away. No matter what, you don’t go away. You develop personal relationships, you’re honest, and you don’t sell him a bill of goods. You tell him the truth. The kids you want are the ones willing to believe the truth, not just some fairytale. You stay with kids long enough to develop relationships and become a good family fit. We were there the whole time.

Could he see some time as a true freshman?

It’s always possible, but you can’t stress if he can’t. I know he’ll be right there competing.

Running back seems like a particularly loaded position with Terrance West, Sterlin Phifer, Tremayne Dameron, Dominique Booker, Chesson and several others.

It’s a multi-headed hydra. It’s a damn shame we’ve only got one football. In Canada they’ve got 12 guys; maybe we can get 13 or 14 and throw two footballs out there and see what happens. But honestly, depth at any position creates great competition. There’s probably better competition at that position than on any other team I’ve seen. One guy goes down, another comes in and we don’t miss a beat. It’s a great problem to have.

Christian Carpenter, the wide receiver from Aberdeen, is another local guy that people around here were very impressed with. What do you expect from him?

It depends on how well he picks it up. Obviously, he’s athletic. Normally the farther away from the ball you are the better chance you have to come in at a young age and play compared to the larger, physical linemen positions in the trenches. He has the ability to play multiple positions because of his athleticism. It led him to a great opportunity here.

The two other Baltimore-area guys are Shayne Sullivan, an offensive lineman from Archbishop Spalding, and Juleon Killikelly-Lee from Woodlawn. What do you like about them?

Well Shayne, I think his upside is ridiculous. When he was a freshman, I want to say he might’ve weighed 215 pounds. Now he’s 285 on a bad day. He’s just starting to get his own feet underneath him. His future is incredibly bright. Juleon is probably one of the fastest guys in the metro area, and he loves football. These are guys where the potential is high. They haven’t begun to show us how good they can be. How hard they work depends on how far they’ll go.

Is there anyone else in this class that could play this fall?

This kid named Jake McDowell from Los Alamitos, Calif., could possibly play at right tackle. He’s a [JUCO] transfer. He’s probably the only one.

How does it feel to be in this position, and how does Towson ensure that this success continues?

Everything’s a new challenge every day. I knew we were getting better all along. We weren’t as bad a year ago as our 1-10 record would have indicated. That was probably vindicated by how well we did this year, but we probably weren’t as good as our record indicated this year. We were a lot better, but the challenge now is being the hunted instead of the hunter. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. Nobody is going to think we’re not a good football team. We have to bring our ‘A’ game every week. Teams are going to expect that from us. Every game, every week, our kids have got to raise the bar. This has been a program that has done it different ways for 40-some years. The difference being for us that we just need to stay the course, take the highs, take the lows, and keep coming week after week.

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