Vols Aim to Reopen Virginia Border

Chris Ellis' recent trip to Tennessee was enough to convince him to cancel his Jan. 31 visit to North Carolina State and to rank UT ahead of Maryland, but Virginia and Virginia Tech remain prime contenders, which means the fight for the nation's No. 31 defensive end could become an in-state tug of war.

The Vols have failed to attract a big-name prospect out of Virginia the last two years, finishing second on an entire laundry list of blue chippers, but they continue to make a strong impression with kids from coast to coast. Ellis (6-5, 240, 4.78) was no exception in that respect and Tennessee coaches hope that will persuade him to break the Virginia slump.

It was great," Ellis said. "It was a different type of campus but I liked it. It's big, it's spread out and I liked that part. I got a chance to see the facilities across from the Stadium, the weight room area. That was unbelievable. I haven't seen anything else like it."

Ellis, who was a three-year starter at Bethel High School in Hampton, Va. also liked his host Cody Douglas and the city of Knoxville.

"It was pretty good," he said. "He took me around town, it was a good time. The city was nice, but it was cold when I was there."

Ellis avoided the crowd of prospects who descended on Tennessee's campus last weekend by arriving on Sunday and leaving Tuesday. He has another visit set for Virginia Tech this weekend and then he'll sort through the information he has compiled. Ultimately, Ellis will rely on his intuition to tell him where he belongs.

"It's between Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia Tech and UV," he said. "I'm looking for a place where the opportunity is there for me. A place where I can live four or five years. A lot of it is gut feeling. That's what's got me where I am so far. I might as well go with it again."

Ellis plans to study sports management in hopes of working around football, if he can't play it professionally.

"Maybe as a agent or an area of marketing and promotions," he said. "I'd like to think that I'm a good student. I'm qualified, but I still need 20 more points on my math and verbal to get my test score. I'll be fine."

Ellis was fine during his senior season despite the fact his team ended up 3-7 and opponents avoided him like a root canal.

"We were real young," he said. "We lost 30 seniors and had a lot of young kids on the team. Teams ran away from me a lot. They'd run to the short side of the field, rolled away from me a lot. So I ended up with 13 sacks, 32 tackles for loss and over 80 tackles all together."

Ellis recorded 78 tackles, 24 for losses with 16 sacks as Bethel went 8-2 in 2001. He also played tight end, although he didn't get many pass-catching opportunities.

A self-described role player, Ellis is currently starting center for Bethel's varsity basketball team and averages eight points and 11 rebounds a game.

When asked to recall a favorite play from his football career, Ellis picked a climatic end to a big game from his junior year against Western Branch High School.

"They were a tough team," he said setting the stage. "They were ranked in the state and they were in our division so we would see them again regardless, if we both had good seasons. First game, so it was a highly anticipated game and the stadium was full. We went back and forth all night, then we scored with about four minutes to go in the game. We went up 32-29 and kicked the ball back to them. They came back slowly but just kept driving. They were inside our five with 10 seconds left and they ran a bootleg, and this time I dropped into coverage. He rolled out and threw the ball. I broke on the ball and intercepted the pass to win the game."

Ellis was slowed during his senior season by strained ligaments in his shoulder which kept the joint from remaining stable. The injury has also kept him from weight training until February. When he can work out, he does so diligently. He was benching 315 when he maxed out last summer and is eager to complete rehab so he can start lifting again in earnest. In fact, two of his role models are players noted for their Spartan work ethic.

"At my position, I like to look at Julius Peppers as far as what he did and the way he attacks the game." he said. "I like to look at Jerry Rice and Walter Peyton for the work ethic they had. I can't say I have a work ethic at the same level, but I'd like to believe I'm on the path to get there."

Ellis is being recruited by Tennessee's Larry Slade and he appreciates the fact the Vols have been there since the beginning.

"I think it's a pretty good relationship," he said when asked about Slade. "He came by the house and made a visit before anybody back in November, and they just eventually became that team that's always been there. Coach Fulmer and Coach Chavis came by the other day for an in-home visit. It went good."

Whether that's enough to lure Ellis to The Hill is yet to be determined. Right now, the odds look to be slim — Virginia slim.

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