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Northwestern LB Collin Ellis’ big game rife with emotion


Collin Ellis

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On March, 21, 2010, Collin Ellis was preparing for his freshman year at Northwestern. His father, Greg, was especially excited for him. Greg wanted his son to parlay his talent on the football field into a top-notch education.

Then, in an instant, thoughts of life after high school immediately turned to shock. Ellis’ mother, Becky, told him to call 911. As Ellis recalls, the next thing he knew, she told him his dad was gone.

Greg had committed suicide.

The immediate aftermath saw a rush of people flood into the Ellis home. But family and friends could do little to comfort Collin about leaving Baton Rouge, La., to go to school in Evanston.

He told his mom and three siblings he was going to stay home and was intent on playing at Tulane, which also had offered him a scholarship. He called Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and told him what happened.

Fitzgerald told Ellis that he and linebackers coach Randy Bates would be at the funeral, and Ellis said seeing them there removed any doubts he had about his college choice.

Now a junior, there are times Ellis still struggles with being away from home.

“There’s times where you think you were the cause of it, and then there’s times where you’re extremely mad, you don’t want to talk to anybody,” Ellis said.

“People say it gets easier with time. It doesn’t get easier with time, you just learn how to deal with it.

“There’s still times where at night I’ll just sit there, just cry because it’s just sad. It sucks.”

As if dealing with the death of his dad wasn’t enough, Ellis has suffered a slew of injuries that have stunted his promising career.

During the spring before his redshirt freshman season of 2011, Ellis was competing for a starting-linebacker spot but broke his hand. Later that year, he broke his thumb in practice. Last season, he pulled his hamstring tackling Michigan’s Fitz Toussaint.

The hand injuries, in particular, made it difficult for Ellis to gain weight because he couldn’t lift. But a healthy offseason saw Ellis grow to 230 pounds, which helped him beat out Drew Smith for the starting “Sam” linebacker spot in training camp.

In the season opener Saturday at California, Ellis returned two interceptions for touchdowns, earning him the National Defensive Player of the Week Award.

His mom and stepfather, John Anderson, flew to Berkeley for the game. It was an emotional day for Ellis. Seeing his mom after the game caused Ellis to break into tears, but no moment was more difficult than the walk onto the field before the game.

Northwestern parents line the tunnel as players walk through before kickoff.

“Some people’s dads, you see the look in their eyes,” Ellis said. “They are super, super proud. I knew my dad would be like that, too. And so sometimes I get emotional. Especially at Cal, I got emotional. I saw one player’s father was crying, and so that made me a little upset walking into the game.”

After the game, Fitzgerald gave Ellis the game ball, which was greeted by resounding cheers from his teammates. It made Fitzgerald choke up.

“To see him crying on the field after the game was pretty tough for me to watch,” Fitzgerald said after the game. “I love the young man like a fourth son, and I’m just really happy for him. I’ve got to keep my emotions in check here a little bit. But he’s a special young man.”

A young man fulfilling the dreams his father had for him on that fateful day.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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