FAYETTEVILLE — A remarkable man can toil for unremarkable teams.
Brooks Ellis proves it. He's done it before and he does it now.
The senior University of Arkansas linebacker from Fayetteville played for one struggling 3-9 Razorbacks as a freshman and three OK ones from 2014-2016 7-6, 8-5 and now 7-5 going into his Razorbacks finale Thursday in the Belk Bowl against the Virginia Tech Hokies in Charlotte, N.C.
He's been an anchor on all those teams including the excellent defensive team of 2014 that in consecutive SEC games in Fayetteville shut out LSU and Ole Miss.
The pre-med major and December, 2016 UA grad has done it so superbly academically that he was a 2016 finalist for the Campbell Award, the Heisman Trophy equivalent for academic excellence and combined with football prowess.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema, even while at Wisconsin from 2006-20012 turning out some of the NFL's best, including J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson, and some potential NFL greats from Arkansas, too, asserts that Ellis is unique.
“I don't think I've ever been around a player that has accomplished so much on and off the field,” Bielema said. “He's the leading tackler and all that stuff, but what he's done in the classroom. He's gone to Belize for an academic opportunity. He's a pre-med kid. He's one of 12 finalists for the highest prestigious academic award in college football. In my opinion he should have won it. A very unique guy with a very unique skill set.”
A skill set that Bielema believes will keep Ellis playing football before he becomes a M.D.
“ I do believe he's gonna do well in the NFL,” Bielema said. “I think the thing that people like about him is he literally could probably play all three linebacker spots, Sam, Mike and Will. We've had to use him at Mike (middle linebacker), I think his best position might be a Sam (strongside 'backer) or a Will, (weakside 'backer) more of an outside backer. And he's always great on special teams so I think he's got a very very bright future.”
A future still with Thursday's bowl game to play.
“It's been fun to have one last ride with the boys and come out and play with them and have another chance to put on the Razorback uniform,” Ellis said. “I can't wait to get out there next Thursday.”
Since he never redshirted and and played so much so fast in every game as a 2013 and an established starter before that season ended and ever since, Ellis said sometimes it feels like he just got here.
“It's flown by,” Ellis said. “It's been the quickest four years than I can even imagine. It's been really quick, but I've had a lot of fun along the way.”
And as a team, “though we didn't have the season we wanted,” Ellis said of 2016, they did improve from “when we were awful” in 2013,” and won bowl games in 2014 and 2015 with those SEC shutouts over LSU and Ole Miss in 2014, a 5-3 SEC record in 2015 and highlight victories in 2016 over TCU, Ole Miss and SEC East champion Florida, respectively ranked 15th, 12th and 11th, when Arkansas beat them.
He led the Razorbacks in tackles (102) last season and leads them now (78) heading into the Belk Bowl.
Also in 2015 and 2016, Ellis has been the on field coaching extension of defensive coordinator Robb Smith and linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves. Ellis tutored then true freshman and fellow Fayetteville High alum Dre Greenlaw when Greenlaw moved from high school safety to Razorbacks starting weakside linebacker alongside Ellis.
This season Greenlaw broke his foot during the sixth game. So Ellis tutored Greenlaw's replacements, junior Dwayne Eugene who previously played mostly special teams, and true freshman De'Jon “Scoota” Harris.
“Brooks gets more on his plate, and he doesn't complain,” Smith said. “He just gets lined up and puts himself in a position to make plays. That's everything you can want and ask for in a mike linebacker.”
Veteran coach Hargreaves, succeeding Randy Shannon as Arkansas' linebackers coach in 2015, has coached a lot players at a lot of places but never one quite like Ellis, he said.
“The smartest player I have ever coached without a doubt,” Hargreaves said. “His intelligence obviously and his football IQ is really high. He's had a great career here. It's going to be tough when he walks off for the last time for him for sure.”