"Really, it's just about how you play during the season," Ellis told PW after practice Tuesday. "Just because you have a starting job now doesn't mean you'll have one by the end of the season, or even after the first game."
Ellis' words follow the theme of his summer: hustle and stay humble. The rising junior and Academic All-Big Ten honoree filled the hole left by David Nwabuisi with a glowing training camp, beating out Drew Smith to join one of the most talented linebacker units in the Big Ten. Fitz's first word to compliment Ellis' performance? "Focused."
As ready as he is to prove his worth during the season, Ellis will be tested from the get-go. Cal's "Bear Raid" offense should figure for a pass-heavy Saturday--Tuesday's 7-on-7s were particularly big on passing sets--but the Golden Bears still averaged a healthy 4.87 yards per carry last season. A week later, Syracuse brings a ground attack lead by 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith. No sweat yet for Ellis.
"The way you practice is the way you play," he said. "Now I've gone through the reps, I know what I'm doing. It's time to relax, don't think and just play." He certainly won't be alone. Ellis lines up alongside Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo, two guys that could find themselves on plenty of year-end lists if all goes well. Ariguzo knows exactly what Ellis is in for, having manned the strong side last year, and told PW that he has a tendency to "fly around" from the front seven.
Ellis' relationship with Proby and Ariguzo goes beyond a shared position though. After starting 10 games together last year, the three have become good friends, staying close in the locker room--literally. Ariguzo's no. 44, Ellis' no. 45 and Proby's no. 46 ensure that the starting linebackers will have plenty of time together.
On a defense stacked with playmakers, Collin Ellis doesn't have to do too much. He wouldn't have it any other way. But come Saturday, he's just as responsible as the other 21 starters for making 2013 a season to remember.
"Now it's time to go," Ellis says. "This is just a title. Now it's time to perform."