This week marked the final installment of The Chris Ash Show for the 2016 season. For those of you who have been able to tune in, Coach Ash has come off as very likable. He has been able to joke around with hosts Chris Carlin and Eric LeGrand while also speaking frankly about the state of the program. Tonight, as he focused on the future of the program, he also paid tribute to the seniors who have supported this program through all its trials and tribulations over the past few years.
When talking about the graduating seniors, a lot of focus has been put on defensive leaders and co-captains Darius Hamilton and Julian Pinnix-Odrick. Rightfully so, given the leadership and talent they have brought to the team over the past 5 years. Hamilton and JPO were 5 and 3-star recruits respectively, and marked the type of NJ talent we need to keep in state to be successful. They stayed on board despite all the coaching changes, disciplinary issues, and off-field drama surrounding the program over the last few years, and have helped guide their teammates to handle the situation with grace. Anyone who remembers Hamilton standing on the sidelines last year after his season-ending knee injury can appreciate the value he has brought to this program beyond his superb physical talent. Ash referred to these players as “pros,” and thanked them for buying into his message and reinforcing that message to their teammates.
While JPO and Darius are clearly two of the more visible and influential players leaving the team this year, Ash reiterated his love for all the seniors, even those who did not buy in as easily. When asked about by LeGrand about senior safety Anthony Cioffi, Ash mentioned that he was a little bit of a harder sell, and tends to march to the beat of his own drummer. He did eventually buy into the message of this new coaching staff and sold other reluctant teammates. Ash believes he has improved and had a great senior season.
Ash also gave accolades to captains and offensive line leaders Chris Muller and Derrick Nelson, as well as TE Nick Arcidiacono for continuing to grind and improve a struggling offense. Coach Ash sung Arcidiacono’s teamwork and behind the scenes contributions. While Arcidiacono is not the explosive player making long, game winning catches, he is a “quiet leader,” who leads by example and is out there making blocks and opening up plays for his teammates. Ash believes these players have shown tremendous fight and character, as they continue to play hard and set an example despite the opportunity for post-season play. While many seniors might chose to focus on the next phase at this point in a losing season, these seniors continue to build a foundation for the future, and are looking to leave their legacy heading into the final two games.
Speaking of the game against Penn State this weekend, Ash declined to respond to the social media activity of PSU coach James Franklin, and said he is focused on his players and helping them play the best game possible. If the team is any more fired up for this game, it is because they are playing for their seniors, and helping them to end their season on a positive note. It does seem though from the response and questions of the fans on the show, there will be a lot of energy in HPSS stadium on Saturday night. A visit from successful NFL Knight Mohammed Sanu should also help to fortify that energy this week. He encouraged the team to keep grinding, making good decisions, and fighting for their teammates.
As he gave recognition to his graduating seniors, Ash is looking towards the future in regards to developing his younger players. Ash reminded us that during the Indiana game, Darius Hamilton and Anthony Cioffi were on the sidelines for a good portion of the game. He has a good number of returning players on the defensive line and in the secondary. He is particularly excited about freshman linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams, and praised senior Greg Jones for continuing to work with Tyreek despite his career-ending neck injury. Ash referred to Greg as “his guy,” and was remorseful he was not able to finish out his career the way he would have expected.
As we look to close out this season, Ash is focused on the future. He has a running list of areas he would like to discuss with his staff as they look to improve the program next year. These areas include player development now that he has had a full year to assess the time, as well as improvements to nutrition and strength training. His plan for the program has not changed, and he continues to look for big, fast, strong, physical players who can help Rutgers to compete in the Big 10. There will be a focus on recruiting in the first two weeks of December as Ash and company look to solidify an already strong recruiting class.
Here’s to 2017, and our big rebuild. To the seniors who have helped to grow this program, and shown incredible resilience in the process, we salute you. For now, let’s show the Nittany Lions that the Scarlet Knights have not given up, and neither should we.