Erik Knickerbocker Working to Turn Around Rockville Football

By Danny Atkinson

Erik Knickerbocker had an impressive resume as a member of Ellington High’s football coaching staff. Knickerbocker, who also played at Ellington, served on the staff as an assistant and defensive coordinator for 14 seasons.

But this year, Knickerbocker decided it was time for a new challenge.

Knickerbocker took over as head coach at rival Rockville this year and hopes to guide the Rams back to prominence in just their second season in the Pequot League.

Rockville has struggled mightily for years and has not had a winning season since 2004 when legendary coach Tom Dunn coached his last season at RHS. Rockville was 1-9 last season.

“Leaving Ellington and coming to Rockville was a way to further my career,” Knickerbocker said. “I’ve wanted to advance to becoming a head coach for a while now, and all my great years at Ellington allowed me to prepare for the challenge of doing so. I was ready for something different and looked at a few area jobs, but Rockville was a great opportunity and fit.”

Leaving Ellington and its players was a difficult decision for Knickerbocker.

“People who understood my ambition to become a head coach at supported my decision,” Knickerbocker said. “It was most difficult to leave the players and coaches, and I cared the most about what they thought and explaining my reason for leaving to them. I understand that it was tough for the community surrounding the program to see me leave Ellington after playing and coaching there, but I’ve gotten through the blowback. What I was most concerned about following the move was explaining my approach to coaching and goals for the Rockville program to the players and people at RHS.”

Knickerbocker’s strong working relationships with current and former Ellington coaches led to a number of coaches following him to RHS. Former Ellington head coach Keith Tautkus and assistant Rich Gelsimino had long ago promised to join Knickerbocker’s staff when became a head coach and both are not on staff at RHS.

One of the main goals for this first season is to change the culture and make sure players, coaches and families understand the rich history behind the football program. In short, it is time to “Restore The Rock.’’

Knickerbocker has maintained regular contact with coach Dunn and has take time to learn about the championship seasons during the halcyon days of the 1980s and 90’s

Dunn and his staff created a trophy case to display the program’s championship trophies and newspaper clippings about the RHS glory days. Knickerbocker said his players were fascinated by the history and began to see this as their chance to bring success back to the school.

“In educating player’s about Rockville’s history, we infused energy in the entire team,” Knickerbocker said. “The coaching staff wanted to say “here’s what Rockville was as a program”, and in doing so the players were able to consider what they have done and what the team can do to begin establishing that success again. This was especially important, considering when I got here the kids came to me and told me they got made fun of and were discouraged by always losing.”

Trust was also a focal point. Trust in each other and in the coaching staff was a regular topic of discussion during the preseason.

“By talking about trust, we wanted the players to see the importance of everyone going in the same direction and working towards the same goals on the field. We also wanted to inspire them to be better teammates, and focus on how they could make the team better and not just themselves,” Knickerbocker said. “At the same time, I wanted them to see that the other coaches and I were there for them and would do everything to serve each player’s needs and make them better. I did my best in these conversations to get the players to see the hard work they must put in to have success.”

Knickerbocker and his staff essentially broke everything in the kitchen cabinets as it relates to offensive and defensive systems. “I installed everything from scratch,’’ Knickerbocker said.

Rockville returned six starters on both sides of the ball and the staff will rely heavily upon its seniors to provide leadership.

The season is still in the early stages (Rockville was 2-1 at press time) but Knickerbocker said a number of leaders have also emerged. Quarterback Ben Ambro, running back Kejuan Greene, lineman Colby Mullins, linebacker/RB Clayton Aefedt, and RB/defensive back Kai Armstrong, all seniors, and junior RB/LB Jonathan O’Coin have been instrumental thus far.

Knickerbocker also said the Rams offensive line was its strongest unit through two games, and praised junior Avery Wilson and sophomore Sam Wheeler for their performance in solidifying the line.

“Ben and Green have moved our culture forward by emphasizing teammates work hard and trust one another,” Knickerbocker said. “Colby leads by example, and Clayton has a great work ethic. Kai has stepped up in a leadership role while simultaneously improving.”

Rockville split its first two games, losing its opener 35-21 at Pequot Football conference power Cromwell/Portland before bouncing back with at 48-7 victory over Gilbert/Northwestern at home. Rockville also defeated Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby 14-13 on 9/22.

 

“The team and I have been largely pleased by our effort and play especially against Gilbert/Northwestern,” Knickerbocker said. “The guys were happy that we were able to play Cromwell so tough after being blown out by them last year. Against Gilbert/Northwestern, the players displayed how well they can just play and execute together on both sides of the ball and no one guy tried to do too much. This is evident when looking at the number of different guys scored touchdowns. It’s been very satisfying to see how enthusiastic and hard-working the players are daily, and they can definitely consistently improve.”

Knickerbocker answered with conviction when asked his favorite aspects of coaching Rockville so far.

“Watching the development of players and meeting and forming relationships with each one, and seeing my assistants develop rich relationships with them as well. It’s been wonderful to see everyone trusting one another.”

Knickerbocker said the coaches and players already have a solid understanding of what a successful season will be for the program.

“If we get better as a group and can say we came and stayed together, that will define our success. If we do well record-wise, we’ll all be happy,” Knickerbocker said.

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