Four times in the last four months Massaponax (Fredericksburg, Va.) inside linebacker Gus Little…
Coach Speak: Eric Ludden on Gus Little
Here's our Q&A session with him:
Terrapin Times:The first question here I always like to start with Coach is can you break down Gus' game for us and what he brings to the defense?
Eric Ludden: He has so many great attributes. At the top of the list is his intelligence. As far as reading, being a student of the game, that kind of thing, that's where he really excels. Then to go along with that, his size stands out. He's an easy 6-3, 6-4 and 225 [pounds] with good speed with a watch and also football speed. He plays in the middle for us, but he's also a sideline-to-sideline kind of linebacker
TT:Gus told me he projects as an inside linebacker. I'm assuming the Maryland coaches said that's where they want him at?
EL: That's what it seems like. Coach [Randy] Edsall said [inside linebacker] is such a key position, it's like a quarterback on defense. He wants to see those guys in person move and run, not just look at them on film. And when he saw Gus come to Maryland and move, that's when he gave him the offer. So I think Coach Edsall wants Gus to play that inside linebacker, MIKE spot and be a guy that can move around, make the calls and be a leader in the middle.
TT: Gus was saying he can cover pretty well too. Do you see him being able to drop back and cover tight ends and receivers – almost playing that cover linebacker role?
EL: Yes, I think he can do that. He's been working a lot on that over the last year, and he's gotten a whole lot better. And actually this spring he did some work as a wide receiver, so he has the foot speed.
I think [his speed] is one of the things Maryland really liked about Gus. At a camp, you can hit the bag and all that good stuff, but when they see how you can cover in space, move 45 degrees and move backwards, I think Gus definitely looked good in those areas. Actually, I think that's what got him the offer. So I do think he can play that role; he's very versatile.
TT: What does Gus still have to work on to get ready for Big Ten ball?
EL: I think with any freshman, strength is a big thing. Matching up with the strength he'll see in college football, especially in the Big Ten, is something he'll have to work on. But Gus is getting really strong right now, and he's hitting his stride in that sense. And then just learning the system as quickly as he can, that's an adjustment.
But I think the system Maryland runs is something that excited Gus a lot. It's similar to what we do here, so Gus will be able to slide right in. We're a 3-4 team and have been for the last three, four years. There are similarities for the reads and responsibilities for the inside backers.
TT:How did the recruiting process go down with Gus?
EL: Coach [Lyndon] Johnson was the point-man; he visited our school several times and then had Gus up to Maryland for three visits before the last one [June 19]. I think Gus had around 12, 13 offers with the biggest ones being Maryland, UVA, NC State and Boston College. And BC, that was a tough one for him because they've had a lot of great linebackers there and he enjoyed himself up there. But I think Gus just loved Maryland and could see himself playing for the coaches there. He felt like it was a really good fit for him.
TT: I know academics played a role as well. Just from talking to Gus I can tell he's a high-academic kid…
EL: Definitely. Gus could have gone Ivy League if he wanted to. He's close to a 4.0 GPA and he's just an outstanding student. I would say when he made his decision, one of the things he kept saying was how he wanted to go to a great academic institution too. And at Maryland, he got the best of both worlds.
TT: Gus also talked about the relationship he had with the Maryland coaches. I know he liked Lyndon Johnson, Keith Dudzinski and Coach Edsall. How was Coach Johnson when he visited Massaponax, and did Gus talk about his rapport with those guys?
EL: I know from my side of it, just the openness and honesty rather than being sold something stood out about Coach Johnson and the Maryland coaches. He said this is what we want, this is what we expect, and this is where Gus stands with us, and this is what he needs to do. As far as communication, it was really easy for us.
And I know Gus, right from the start, he said he would like to play for those guys. We went out to watch practice just to get a feel for how the coaches worked with the players, and he was really impressed with that. Then sitting in the room and doing the recruit talk, that really hit home with him too. He could tell the coaches there had knowledge of the game and were motivators as well.
TT: One of the things Gus told me that separated Maryland from Boston College, was Maryland is a chance to play in the Big Ten. Did he impart that to you as well, and what do you think about him playing in the Big Ten?
EL: I have to say that [the Big Ten] was a major factor. As a coach in high school, you want to make sure these guys are thinking about all the different criteria and categories, from who the teams play to geography to competition to coaches. So [the Big Ten] was definitely something that came up, and Gus likes that a lot. The chance to go into a new league, and while it will be challenging certainly, you can accomplish some great things as the new guy knocking people off. That really excited Gus.
And with Coach Edsall's track record at UConn, Gus is confident he can do the same thing in the Big Ten.
TT: And what's Gus like in the locker room, Coach? Is he a vocal guy or more of a quieter type?
EL: He's definitely a leader for us. When I talked to other coaches in the recruiting process, I said this guy is a dream come true. Just coming in as a freshman, you could tell his love was football. He just digests everything thrown his way. He loves the game, and he leads by example. His GPA, his work ethic, his demeanor – it's contagious.
I remember his freshman year we were doing an Oklahoma drill and Gus was going against a varsity guy. Now Gus was small, maybe 175 pounds, and he put on this really big hit on the varsity guy. And not only did he make the tackle, but he wasn't satisfied. So I look over at this kid and [Gus] is red in the face and he's like hyperventilating. I went over to him and said, ‘Are you OK? Do you need to see a trainer?' And he just looked at me and said, ‘Coach, this is just the way I am.'
So basically the intensity of his game is contagious. He'll run through a wall for you, and the team picks up on that. He's definitely a leader, and this year coming up it's certainly his team.
TT: And what's he like off the field? He seems like a really grounded kid…
EL: Definitely. He's close to his family, he's someone his friends and teammates can count on off the field, and I've never heard one negative thing about him in school or anywhere. Like I said, he's a coaches' dream come true. He's going to take care of things on the field, off the field and in the community. I'm not exaggerating when I say this, and I've been doing this for 30 years: Gus has one of the highest character threads I've ever coached. He makes it so easy for me.
TT: I always like to ask coaches if there's a play that stands out about a particular player. Is there a play you can point to that sort of defines Gus?
EL: There's been a few for sure. I know we were doing a punt return where Gus ran down the field and just had this unreal, de-cleating peel-back block. Then another time the offense ran a toss play out wide, and Gus came up from the inside backer's spot. He ran with the running back 25 yards laterally, got to the edge and made the play before the kid turned the corner. That right there showed me not only did Gus have the ability to move, but he had the heart. A lot of guys would say, hey, that's the cornerback's or safety's job, but Gus went and chased [the back] down himself. That's heart.
TT: And last thing Coach. I know Maryland has had some problems recruiting in Virginia over the years. Do you feel like Maryland can make inroads down there moving to the Big Ten, and also what's the Terps' presence like down there? What's it going to take for Maryland to recruit better in Virginia?
EL: In the last three years or so they've really paid more attention to our area. The Fredericksburg area is starting to get more attention overall, but we have seen more of Maryland recently. We always got a visit from Maryland every year; they've always been here. But in the last two, three years it's picked up some.
And I think for sure Maryland can get kids down here. The big guys down here are Virginia and Virginia Tech, and it's very competitive. But I think Maryland is stepping up, and with them moving to the Big Ten they need to keep at it because the area does have a lot of talent. You don't want to miss on kids so close by, and I think Maryland is an attractive option for a lot of the players around here, and if [the UMD coaches] keep plugging away they will get their share.
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