When Kenrick Ellis sat in a Virginia jail cell for three weeks, the last thing he could think about was football. The Jets’ second-year nose tackle just wanted to make it to July 9, the day of his release.
“My mindset was to make it through the situation I was in,” Ellis said last week. “Football wasn’t on my mind. I was just trying to make sure I could get up the next morning and go do the things that you had to do in there just to get into a routine.
“If you think about the stuff that you lost and don’t have you’re just going to make it a lot worse. You have to check your environment and just realize your reality at that moment.”
Ellis pleaded guilty in May to assault and battery after facing felony charges from a 2010 fight while he was a college student at Hampton University. He entered an Alford plea, meaning he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors could prove a case against him. Under the agreement, his sentence was split so he would not miss any football. He served 23 days already and will serve the remaining 22 beginning March 1.
The 24-year-old has put jail out of his mind now. He is concentrating on football, and it shows. Ellis wowed coaches in the preseason with how much better he looks than he did as a rookie.
“If you poll anybody who is the most improved player on defense, it’s not even close,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said.
Ellis’ improvement did not happen by accident. He sought out veteran linebacker Bart Scott at the end of last season to help him train. The two live near each other and work out at the same gym. They began working out together in February, doing MMA training and boxing 2-3 times a week plus weightlifting beginning at 6 a.m. daily.
“He showed humility,” Scott said. “He was willing to listen and learn.”
When Ellis reported to the team’s offseason program in April, he looked like a different player. He weighed about 330 pounds, the same as he had as a rookie but had turned fat into muscle. He credits Scott with teaching him what it takes to play in the NFL.
“My concentration was to just work my butt off so I could compete at an NFL level,” Ellis said. “When you’re a rookie you’re competing at a college level until you get it. When you’re a rookie you don’t know that you don’t know. Once you get how hard you have to work you just put the rest together. This is a big boys’ league. If you don’t work, you won’t make it here.”
Ellis has now regained the confidence he lost during a tough rookie year, when he played in only five games.
“Last year I came in very confident,” Ellis said. “Then, after preseason and camp I had no confidence at all. This year, I feel like I’m back to where I understand what’s going onI feel like I’m finally back to myself, which is what got me here.”
Sione Po’uha is still the Jets’ starting nose tackle, but with the team playing more four-man fronts, Ellis should see a lot of playing time this season.
Scott has watched Ellis work and gotten to know him. He worries people have the wrong idea about Ellis because of his legal problems.
“He’s a great kid,” Scott said. “He’s respectful. He’s humble. He’s a big teddy bear. That one incident, which I have my own opinion about, is not indicative of who he is. If that’s all people read or know about him, that’s not who he is.”
You have to say one thing about Bart, the other young players look to him alot for advice/training..I know Ducasse has too