Ellis already a playmaker as a true freshman

There is an instinct some football players have, an ability to run toward a wave of defenders and find cracks in an ever-shifting maze.

Indiana coach Tom Allen will never forget how one of his coaching mentors, Ben Davis legend Dick Dullaghan, went about searching for that gift. Every year, he would line up his incoming freshmen and sophomores and make them return kicks, just to see how they cut, juked and accelerated through alleys.

“God decides who the good running backs are,” said Allen, recalling Dullaghan’s words.

David Ellis, it seems, is a chosen one.

The freshman from Clinton Township, Mich., isn’t exactly a running back. He came into the preseason listed as an “athlete,” settling in at slot receiver for IU. But he also just claimed the Hoosiers’ kick return duties because of that exact gift Dullaghan and Allen describe.

Ellis has a knack for knowing where seams will open before they do. It’s almost like he has eyes out his earholes, sensing opportunities to horizontally cut around swarms of incoming tacklers.

Those gifts allowed Ellis to return a handful of kicks for touchdowns as a senior at Chippewa Valley. He debuted with four kicks returned an average of 26 yards last Saturday versus Ball State, but everyone knows more big-play potential lies within the 6-foot, 207-pounder.

“Every time I get it, I want to take it to the house,” Ellis said. “Get it and go to the crib.”

Ellis was one of just five Hoosier freshmen to play in the opener, which means he will almost certainly not redshirt this season. And that’s OK. As far as confidence level, and even his build, Ellis seems ready for college football.

Whop Philyor, the Hoosiers’ starting slot receiver, compared Ellis to former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. A good chunk of Ellis’ 207 pounds is located in his thighs. That makes him incredibly explosive.

In a question unrelated to Ellis, just a general query on whether to anticipate more big plays from the Hoosiers this season, Philyor couldn’t help but bring up the freshman’s name.

“Yeah,” Philyor said, “… and David Ellis. My boy. Y’all are going to hear his name a lot this year. He’s my guy.”

Just from watching the heroics Ellis displayed in his high school film — playing everything from running back to receiver, safety to return man — Allen knew Ellis would be special one day. He just wasn’t sure it would be this soon.

There is a learning curve for some high school football stars because it’s almost too easy for them to dance around inferior athletes. But Ellis continued to show a knack for competing hard, similar to how he always played best in the biggest games of his prep career.

Once Allen was able to compare Ellis to the rest of his athletes, he measured up.

“I just felt like he was a step quicker. I felt like he got some more thickness,” Allen said. “He’s a better player here than I thought he might be early on.”

Even so, there were some trials for Ellis in camp.

“Camp was probably one of the hardest things I’ve been through, honestly,” Ellis said. “It’s a complex offense, so you just gotta learn everything and learn from the players.”

IU receivers coach Grant Heard said during fall camp that Ellis was good about not making the same mistake twice. But Ellis couldn’t be sure.

How many times did he err?

“At least 10 times a day,” Ellis said. “I was messing up a lot throughout camp. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. I have to recognize that I’m in a different position now. I’m no longer the man on the team, I’m learning a new role and I’m fine with that.”

However the Hoosiers do it, putting the ball in Ellis’ hands seems to translate to good results.

Last week, the coaching staff let Ellis throw a pass on a two-point conversion try. His first option was actually to run the ball on the end-around. His second read was a throw to tight end Matt Bjorson, who was covered.

Luckily, Ellis is a smart player. He remembered back to a state championship game in high school, when his opponent ran the same play. Like the Ball State defender, Ellis took away the initial read for the passer, killing the play.

But there was a receiver open, which the player from Clarkston never identified. With the roles reversed, Ellis knew he would have tight end Peyton Hendershot, dragging across the back of the end zone.

Ellis knew Hendershot would be open, just like the receiver from Clarkston. He hit him for two points.

The freshman just knows how to make plays.

“It’s such a good feeling, working since June, really, through camp and all that stuff, preparing throughout the week, just to be out there and not stress about anything,” Ellis said.

“Playing football is what I love to do. It felt good to just show everybody I can play at this level.”


  1. Ellis has shown himself to be a future star for IUFB. He looked good returning kicks and several times was one step from breaking out for a TD. If he continues to progress he will be a valuable weapon for the Hoosiers.

  2. I really like this young man. I think he’s going to produce a lot of fun moments for IU fans over the next few years.

    1. Po- in one of your posts you opined that IU failed the “eye test” on athletes. I responded that I was in row 2 at Lucas Oil and I saw great athletes. David Ellis was my prime example! He is the real deal! Put him on the field for offense. How can a redshirt senior, great athlete, like 6’4 Donavan Hale only have 1 completion against Ball State? He needs to be great this season!

  3. Relative to Ball State, IU has great athletes. Relative to the Big 10, IU is still one of the 2 or 3 least talented teams.

    1. Moore is the best offensive player in the B1G! But Ellis can be great! No one is in Moore’s league right now!

  4. BeatPurdue, I think Bear Down gets what I was saying. IU has numerous good athletes. But relative to the rest of the Big Ten, it does not appear that we have as many. Perhaps it’s that our best athletes are younger players (like Ellis). I think Penix is one of the better athletes playing QB in the Big Ten. We’ve got a few excellent athletes at running back. But almost across the board, Big Ten teams are loaded this year. Did anyone watch Maryland destroy the 21st ranked Syracuse team today?

    Next week will provide a proper eye test for IU’s athletes.

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