Milford Academy has become known as one of the top places for potential college football talent. While other post-graduate institutions may get more press, Milford head coach Bill Chaplick quietly goes about his job of preparing his players, most of whom were academically ineligible out of high school, for the next level.
Milford Academy is now located in New Berlin, N.Y., 80 miles west of Albany and 60 miles southeast of Syracuse. It's a small town with a population of around 1,100 people. And Milford Academy, from the outside, doesn't look like a prospect-producing power. But it is.
"We get about 100 students each year," said Chaplick, who has been the head coach since 1999 when Milford Academy was located in Milford, Conn. "The whole place is about 60,000 square feet and we have about 62 football players per year. There are four players per dorm so we feel we have a good amount of space for everyone."
Milford Academy was opened in 1906 and has been a non-profit institution since 1965. That same year the school became a post-graduate only program. Chaplick was the perfect fit for the job when it came open in 1998.
"I played at Boston College from 1975-79 and made All-East in '79. I failed a physical with the Giants because I had a bad neck coming out of college, so football was suddenly no longer an option," Chaplick explained. "I went into the private sector for business for awhile before I got the coaching itch. I coached at Ansonia and then at Woodstock Union in Vermont before I took the Milford job.
"I remember that the program was big-time back when I was at BC because there were 95 scholarships and schools played a JV schedule back then so schools recruited more players. With the reduction in scholarships and the harder academic standards now, it's more of a challenge."
Milford Academy has a further reach than many would expect when it comes to attracting players.
"We average about 18 states where kids come from," said Chaplick. "It comes down to winning games and word of mouth because we don't really go out and recruit kids like some other places do. We've built a good reputation so people know about us. And we've had some very good players come in who have had either national reputations or have come in not very well known but who have gone on to do very good things."
One of the first big names Milford attracted was defensive tackle Mac Tyler out of Alabama who was a national top 50 recruit back in 1999. But some of the lesser known names have had more success.
"I've had 92 players go on to D-IA football since 1999, guys like Fred Russell who is with the Rams and Rich Parsons who is with the Redskins. Both of those guys were also big-time prospects, as big as Mac the year before. I also had Niko Koutouvides who is with the Seahawks and Marcel Shipp who is with the Cardinals. We've sent guys like Stephon Wheeler to Michigan State and Freddy St. Preux to South Carolina.
Milford Academy has become a regular stop along the recruiting trail for numerous programs each year and the respect for Chaplick is impressive. Michigan State is just one program that regularly pulls recruits from Milford.
"I have a great respect for Bill and what he's done at that school," said Michigan State head coach John L. Smith. "You know when you get a player from his program he's going to be mature, ready to contribute and will be a good fit. Bill prepares the kids for college."
Assistant coach Jeff Stoutland, who recruits the school directly, agrees.
"I've been recruiting Milford since it was in Connecticut and coach Chaplick does a great job," said Stoutland. "He cares about the kids and he's not going to let them slack off. If they don't do the work, they won't play and if they don't put in the effort in the classroom, he won't push them through because they're good football players. At some places highly recruited players can get away with a lot of stuff. Not at Milford."
The experience at Milford is similar to a prospect's first year in college according to Stoutland.
"They get acclimated to handling football and academics, sometimes for the first time," he said. "There's no superstar treatment like there might be in high school for these kids. As a result, kids are more mature than regular freshmen coming into college."
And Chaplick can be trusted in his evaluations.
"He tells me straight up whether a kid can do the work needed or he can't," said Stoutland. "The school gives these kids a second chance at life and a lot of them are late bloomers. They realize the opportunity they're given and work harder for Bill."
Obviously Chaplick doesn't put up with much when it comes to slacking off. His 51-16 record at Milford isn't about letting kids get away with everything.
"Kids expect everything to be handed to them these days and they just want to become eligible and many of them don't want to do the work," Chaplick said. "This isn't the place for that. If that's what they want, they should look for another school."
Can Chaplick afford that public attitude with all the competition for post-grad kids these days?
"It's more competitive now, but I don't worry much about competing," he said. "I have nothing but respect for Fork Union and Hargrave Military and the others. They do a great job of getting the kids ready for college as well and sometimes it's a better fit for kids to go into that environment.
"We don't do as many sign-and-place kids as they do and as a result I think we can develop players more. We get a good mix of kids who are looking to get their grades up and already have a future destination and kids looking to earn offers."
The Milford football program has nine coaches with Chaplick, two coordinators and six assistants.
"We have a good group here and we do a good job evaluating kids I think," said Chaplick. "We don't take any kids unless we can help them and unless they can play, so it's a combination of things we look for."
Former player Niko Koutouvides has fond memories of his experience at Milford.
"Coach Chaplick is like a father to me, he took me under his wing and everything he could do for me he does for every player. He makes you work hard and make plays and in return he'll do everything in his power to get you out there to schools and get you a scholarship to a great place. I'm really happy Milford re-opened in New York after closing in Connecticut. Coach Chaplick is doing a heck of a job."
Koutouvides stays in touch with his former coach.
"I talk with him about two or three times a month. I actually got him tickets to Super Bowl in January and it was a great experience I wanted him to share. I plan to head back to Milford and meet with coach Chaplick sometime this summer."
The most recent attention on Milford has been because of superstar running back LeSean McCoy, a star at Bishop McDevitt High School in Pennsylvania before enrolling at Milford in January.
"LeSean has done very well," said Chaplick of the Miami commitment. "He's shown good improvement, got everything he needed to do this past semester to get on track. He still needs another full year here to be eligible, but for the first time away from home, he's done very well."
McCoy, one of the nation's top running backs and one of the most heralded high school players to attend Milford, surprised many when he committed to Miami on Signing Day without having taken a visit.
"He felt the opportunity was great there," said Chaplick. "He's the kind of back that Miami likes and he'll have a good chance down there. He took his official visit for the Spring Game and loved it. With 23 NFL players on the sidelines of the game, what's not to love?"
And what of rumors that McCoy left Milford for another prep school?
"False, he finished here and he'll be back on July 23," he said. "He's back at home now but I spoke to him a few days ago and all is good."
McCoy will team up with another future Miami running back, Graig Cooper, in the Milford backfield this year, one of the best backfields in prep football.
Chaplick is putting together his roster for yet another season at Milford and practice is just a few weeks away.
"That's what gets me going," he said. "Getting a new group of kids, a new set of challenges and being able to help these kids get a second chance, that's why I like my job."
And that's why top prospects continue to flock to New Berlin, N.Y. to Milford Academy.