Jake Ellis has been playing football for many, many years but up until a little more than two years ago he’d never taken a snap with his hand in the dirt.
He was a quarterback for his first couple of years at Rock Island High School, then played wide receiver as a junior and senior. Blocking wasn’t a big part of his job in either case and he certainly wasn’t ever called upon to mix it up with the big boys in the trenches.
But it turns out he is pretty good at it.
Ellis is in his third season as a member of the football team at NCAA Division II Truman State and he has emerged this fall as a highly efficient, well-rounded tight end who is as adept at delivering a pancake block as he is at hauling in a touchdown pass.
“I played as a freshman, but I would say this is the first year where I’ve kind of taken on the role of being a full-package tight end,’’ Ellis said.
“My freshman and sophomore years I was just more of a receiving tight end. We had another tight end, C.J. Brown, who I kind of learned the ropes from when I was a young pup. My development in run blocking and everything that comes along with that has come along in the past few years, which has allowed me to get on the field a lot more this year.’’
Thomas Kearney, Truman State’s associate head coach and tight ends coach, has been impressed with what he has seen, calling the 6-foot-7, 252-pound Ellis “a very good player and even better person.
“For his size, he runs really well and has soft hands,’’ Kearney added. “This year he has become more of a complete player. He has really worked on and improved his inline blocking, which is the hardest part when transitioning from receiver to a tight end.’’
It helps that Ellis has packed on close to 40 pounds since the end of his high school career.
He was about 215 pounds in the basketball season during his senior year at Rocky, but he beefed up to 240 by the time he arrived on campus in Kirksville, Missouri, the following fall.
He now has settled in at between 250 and 255.
“Right now, that’s a good weight for me,’’ Ellis said. “I feel pretty strong, I feel durable. I still move really well with this weight so I’m happy with the weight I’ve got right now.’’
Although his education as a blocker limited his playing time somewhat in his first two years of college, Ellis has been a factor as a receiver for the Bulldogs from the very beginning.
He caught 20 passes for 218 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman, being used mostly in obvious passing situations and in the red zone.
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Truman State had one of the best running attacks in Division II last season so Ellis wasn’t targeted nearly as much. He caught only seven passes for 93 yards although the last five receptions all went for touchdowns.
Through seven games this fall, he has 23 receptions for 304 yards and five TDs.
His 15 career touchdown catches already are tied for ninth on the school’s career list and are the most ever by a Truman State tight end. Ellis admits he would like to top the overall school record of 22 by the time he is done.
“I definitely kind of have my goal set on by the end of my senior year coming out on top in reception touchdowns,’’ he said.
His productivity this season has led to one of Truman’s best seasons in a long time. The Bulldogs won their first five games for the first time since 1994 and broke into the Division II rankings for the first time in 18 years. They are 6-1 following a 41-39 victory over Missouri S&T on Saturday.
They face a showdown with No. 10-ranked Indianapolis University, the preseason favorite in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, on Nov. 9.
“Our goal as a team is to go 1-0 every week,’’ Ellis said. “That’s our motto. We’re not looking past the opponent that’s in front of us. The only team we can beat is the team that we play that week. So 1-0 has been a big mentality for us in keeping us grounded in terms of our competition.’’
Off the field, Ellis is working toward a degree in business finance or business marketing with possible minors in communications and Spanish.
He admitted he wouldn’t mind continuing to play football beyond graduation.
“If the opportunity presented itself, I definitely would be interested in it and would probably give it a chance,’’ he said.
That’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. Several tight ends have come out of the D-II ranks to make it in the NFL. Tennessee Titans starter Delanie Walker is in his 14th pro season after playing collegiately at Central Missouri State. Adam Shaheen of the Chicago Bears came out of Ashland University.
Kearney thinks it’s a possibility for Ellis, too.
“With his size and athleticism, I think he will draw interest from the professional leagues,’’ Kearney said. “I know that it’s his goal and he’s working hard to make that dream come true.’’