Aug. 25, 2014
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Collin Ellis turned in a memorable performance during Northwestern's 44-30 victory over Cal that opened the 2013 season. The fifth-year senior explained to Skip Myslenski why that particular win, and the sport in general, holds special meaning for the Louisiana native.
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
The game, the `Cats season opener last fall at Cal, did not begin well for linebacker Collin Ellis. The Bears ran an outside zone, and he didn't trigger, and he missed the tackle, and soon enough he found himself on the bench, replaced by Drew Smith. Then, Ellis will recall, "He made a couple big plays and I was like, `All right. I've got to step my game up.' Then a couple good things happened my way. . .then everything started jelling and I wasn't thinking much. I was reacting, which made things a lot easier. So it wasn't really the interceptions that did it for me. It was the plays leading up to them."
But it was the interceptions, those two interceptions that he returned for touchdowns, that not only made Collin Ellis the star of this game. They also memorialized the resurrection of his career.
On Saturday, when the `Cats open their new season against Cal at Ryan Field, Collin Ellis will be their starting middle linebacker and one of their five captains. "Coming into Northwestern," he will say, "I wanted to be a captain. It's something I always strived to be. Then I kind of fell to the wayside. I wasn't elected to the Leadership Council. I wasn't elected-- I wasn't in a leadership role with my friends.
"I just remember, like whenever you look at guys in meetings and you kind of sense that they don't trust you out on the field, that's the biggest shot you can take when you realize they don't trust you out there. I had to change that. One of the nicest things anyone's ever told me, we had a meeting last year before the season, the linebackers, right before the Cal game. Damien Proby (then the middle linebacker) told me, `You've changed your reputation with the coaches and with all the players. That's amazing. You've worked hard.'"
So you had lost everyone's trust?
"No one ever explicitly told me that. But you can tell."
Collin Ellis committed to the `Cats in the summer of '09 and, the next March, his father committed suicide. Still he would carry on, first as a redshirt in 2010, then as part of the rotation as a redshirt freshman in 2011. He showed some promise that season, totaling 28 tackles in 10 games, but then a miasma settled over him in 2012 and he was a changed man. His mom, he will recall, had moved five times in just a few years ("She was all over the place"). There was, in addition, a younger brother to think about, and most significantly there was this. "To describe the feeling whenever you lose someone the way I did, the first year you're kind of numb, you don't really know what's going on," he begins. "The second year is like, I don't know, you're still sorta numb. The third year was extremely hard, it was the hardest year for me. It really set in. This is different.
"So I was just struggling with everything. I wanted to go home. I felt like I needed to be there for my younger brother. I was just letting that effect my play. I wasn't confident at all. I was telling myself I wasn't going to make any tackles, so why even try. I was just tired of football. I just wanted to go home and hunt and fish instead of playing football. I didn't want to transfer. I didn't want to play anywhere else. I just didn't want to play anymore. I wasn't happy. I wasn't in a good place. With everything that happened with my father, I was in a little depression.
"I was letting that interfere with football instead of using football as an escape, as something to get away to. I was letting it effect my play. Then I was having those very negative talks with myself. I was just down on myself. I was down on my play. I didn't believe I could go out there and make the plays. I called my mom. I called everybody because I thought I was leaving, then a couple of my buddies got on me. They're like, `What're you doing? This is idiotic. The opportunity you have here is incredible. Make the best of it and get over yourself.' It was like, `You're going to blow all of this for nothing. It's not going to change if you're here. You'll still feel the same way.'
"That's when things changed. I looked at the game a little different, and I looked at my opportunity a little different, and I realized I didn't want to go out with the reputation that I had at that time. I wanted to change it. I wanted to go from being a mediocre someone who had a lot of potential and blew it into someone who took full advantage of it and made the best of his opportunity."
The `Cats walked away from their Cal game last fall with a 44-30 victory. Still, when he walked out of the stadium that night and spotted his mom Becky and his stepdad John Anderson, Collin Ellis began to cry. "I got so emotional," he will finally explain, "because I almost quit, I was almost out of the door. Then I went home, talked to my buddies and they basically woke me up. Then I went, `All right' and I kind of tested myself. I was like, `If I give it everything I have, 100 percent'-- literally, the way I worked out, I just gave it my all.
"Then I went, `If it doesn't work out, then hard work doesn't pay off.' But (that night) I found out that it does. After that, it was very emotional. Saw my mom. Saw my stepdad. It was just great to have them there. It was like, `Hard work does pay off.' That's when I knew it. I proved to myself that I could do it."
QUICKLY NOTED: Pat Fitzgerald announced Monday that defensive tackle Sean McEvilly is out for the season and will undergo surgery on Tuesday. Set to start at the defensive tackles spots against Cal are 295-pound junior C.J. Robbins and 310- pound sophomore Greg Kuhar. "It first and foremost gives the guys behind him an opportunity to step up and make names for themselves," Ellis said when asked about McEvilly's loss. "Sean made a name for himself two years ago when he beat out Will Hampton and ended up having a phenomenal season. Before that season, nobody really knew about him. I mean, we knew about him. But nobody else knew about him. That's how I look at this season. We know the guys stepping into that role and we know what they can do. Now it's just their time to show you what they can do.". . . Other notable depth chart data: Rutgers' transfer Miles Shuler is listed as a starting wide receiver; either he or safety Ibraheim Campbell will replace Venric Mark as the punt returner; the starting right offensive tackle will be either sophomore Eric Olson or senior Jack Konopka; and the place-kicking duties will be handled by the 6-foot-3 Jack Mitchell, who is also an outfielder on the `Cats baseball team.
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