In his first year heading the University of Virginia football program, Bronco Mendenhall adopted a jersey selection program where the team would vote who gets to pick their numbers, and when. Mendenhall stuck with the program in Year 2, and for the second consecutive year running back Jordan Ellis was selected by his teammates to have the first pick.
Want to know why the 5’10”, 215-pound redshirt junior earned this distinction? Senior wide receiver Doni Dowling provided some insight.
“He’s the hardest working player on our team. Point blank,” Dowling said of Ellis. “He is the hardest working person on our team. Probably in the ACC, he’s the hardest worker. And that’s a bold statement – yes it’s true. Just to see him do that, it shows that hard work pays off.”
The “that” Dowling is referring to is the performance Ellis turned in in Virginia’s 2017 home opening win over William & Mary. Ellis, whose primary role prior to this season had been on special teams, rushed 20 times for 80 yards, hauled in the first two receptions of his career for 11 yards, and scored twice (one rush, one receiving) in the 28-10 win over the Tribe.
Ellis knew previous seasons weren’t his time. Serving as a backup running back behind former Cavaliers Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid, the Georgia native totaled only 38 carries combined in 2015 and 2016. He embraced his role on special teams, though, knowing he would eventually get a chance for a more significant opportunity this season.
“Obviously I want to get to the next level and play in the NFL, but I just want to be the best and max out my potential,” Ellis answered when asked what motivates him. “Every day I try and give it my all. I don’t want to have no regrets five years from now. That’s why I go hard every day. To know 10 years from now I gave it all I got.”
Cavalier running backs coach Mark Atuaia has pushed the fourth year Cavalier to assume more of a vocal leadership role and not just a leader by example.
“Coach Atuaia got on me at the start of spring practice,” Ellis recalled. “He said, ‘You’ve got to be more of a vocal leader.’ Everybody’s looking at you to make plays. When the offense isn’t maybe doing as well, you got to speak up and say something. I’m a leader now and people respect what I say. I don’t have to do nothing outside of the box of who I am, but just speaking up a little bit and people hear what I have to say.”
Ellis’ leadership was on display last Saturday. He encouraged and supported his good friend, linebacker Malcolm Cook, while the team was waiting to take the field. He told Cook, who has battled injuries and myocarditis to finally run onto David A. Harrison III Field as a Cavalier starter, that “This is what you waited for. I just told him his time is here. Embrace it and make plays.”
During the game, Ellis’ goal was to “just keep everybody calm,” he said. “I know there was a lull in the game a little bit. The offense wasn’t really moving the ball some drives. I just had to keep the offensive line positive. Keep Kurt (Benkert) positive. Keep the receivers positive. Keep our whole offense positive. Keep encouraging our defense to go out there, play hard. Keep a positive mindset no matter what happened that we are going to win at the end of the day.”
Harris’ Replacement Still Unknown
We know senior cornerback Tim Harris is lost for the season for the second straight year. Now we know one player who won’t be replacing him as a starter, at least in the foreseeable future.
Coach Mendenhall revealed during his Wednesday ACC teleconference that junior Darious Latimore remains sidelined as he recovers from a lower extremity injury suffered in September of 2016. Latimore has gone through the rehab protocol but is still not ready to play.
The slow recovery time is frustrating to Latimore and the coaches, Mendenhall said. The coaches want Latimore, who appeared in 10 of 12 games and had two starts as a redshirt freshman in 2015, to return as soon as possible, but as of now there is no timetable for his return.
True freshman Germane Crowell is currently listed as Harris’ replacement at corner opposite Bryce Hall. Redshirt freshman Brenton Nelson, who was previously listed as a safety, is now listed as Crowell’s backup. Redshirt freshman Nick Grant, who listed as Hall’s backup, may also be in the mix.
Despite the depth chart, Mendenhall says the coaches will evaluate up until the very last minute before deciding who will start against Indiana.
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert said during Wednesday’s teleconference that, against William & Mary, the Virginia offense “just barely scratched the surface” of what they can do. He indicated that the offense did not show its full hand by any stretch in week one.
“We’ll unfold more as needed,” Benkert said. “It’s a long season in front of us.”
Benkert described Indiana’s defense as a group “that runs around a lot” with the base set similar to that of the Pittsburgh Panthers. He called the Hoosiers’ front seven a “pretty good group,” adding that the defensive backs are “smaller” but they rotate a lot. He looks for a lot of press coverage from the Hoosiers on Saturday.
Discussing Indiana’s offense, Coach Mendenhall said the Hoosiers are fast-paced without losing physicality. Most fast-paced offenses are finesse-based, Mendenhall noted, but Indiana is not.
“They do not sacrifice physical play for tempo,” he said.
Q&A with a Top UVA Recruit