Inside the Class of '06: Brian Ellis

The 1st in a daily series of interviews and photo essays on members of the Longhorn Class of '06: Signee Brian Ellis.

Brian Ellis
Defensive End
South Grand Prairie High School
NR at DE: 16 SR: 33 Star Rating: ****

An Inside Texas conversation with SGP head coach David Fisher on Brian Ellis:

IT: What are Brian’s strengths as a football player?

Fisher: Brian is a kid who has really grown into his athleticism. He was always a tall, lanky, skinny kid. When he was a freshman or sophomore, we tell the story all the time, Brian wanted to quit football. We tell that because of how far he's come. He just didn't like it. He didn't like the physical contact. He was a little bit awkward. He wore a size 16 shoe. He just had a lot of physical problems as far as being athletic, or lack thereof, but he really stayed with it. We encouraged him -- coach Robert Young, our defensive line coach who coached six years and played in the NFL, Brian could look up to him and say, Look, this guy has been through what I've been through, because Robert is 6-foot-7 and weighs 285 pounds, so Brian kinda took to him and that was a good thing and we kept bringing him along. We always kid coach Brown, he asked for more video after Brian's junior year and I told him, Unfortunately there is no more video because Brian was on the junior varsity team the first five weeks of his junior year because he just wasn't ready to play varsity football at that time. He wasn't physical enough. He wasn't mature enough. He had a lot of problems where we were really trying to bring him along, and then about week five of the year as we started our district play, we were getting ready to play L.D. Bell, which had about a 300-pound average offensive line and we just had to have some bigger bodies out there, so we put Brian in the game and he did a tremendous job. And from that day on he played every snap of his junior year, made all-district because he played in almost every district game and every coach really was impressed by him. So even playing half the season as a junior he made the all-district team. Then all of sudden you're looking at a guy who at that time was 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, ran a 4.8 forty and had long arms and then he really had a good off-season, had a great spring, worked real hard in the summer and then the next thing you know he's a 6-5, 245-pound football player. Really came along as a player and matured. His biggest strengths are his size. I mean you don't have many kids as big as he is. He's the only one that size in the 21 years of coaching, the only one that's a 6-5 kid that can run like he does. We know that's what Texas sees in him. He's a tip-of-the-iceberg guy as we say. We think his best football is definitely ahead of him as he continues to gain weight and strength, but he's always going to be a big kid. He wears a 17 shoe. He's going to be capable of running a 4.7-4.8 forty and carrying 265-270 some day and probably being 6-foot-6 when it's all said and done so we think his best football is still ahead of him. In high school, he was really good because he batted a lot of balls down, tipped a lot of balls on the pass rush. We play a 3-3-5 defense, so we only play with three down linemen so the three down linemen gotta be pretty good. Brian is definitely that, so we're really excited for him and think that he has a great future at the next level and I hope maybe some day I turn the TV on Sunday afternoon and see him playing as well. With his frame, that's definitely a possibility.

IT: To what do you attribute his quick maturation starting mid-way through his junior season?

Fisher: Well, his mother was very supportive because we were really hard on him when he was younger -- tough love, whatever you want to call it. We always say discipline is something you do for someone, not to them, and Brian wanted to quit and we just said, No, you can't quit. He'd look at us like, What do you mean I can't quit? It's not an option. You're not going to quit. Get out of here. We just wouldn't let him quit. So I attribute some of it definitely to the coaches, too. I'm not even talking about me, I'm talking about our defensive coordinator Rob Davies and our other defensive coordinator Brian Pratt and Robert Young, who's his position coach. All those guys had a hand in just literally dragging him along when he was a sophomore and a junior. He didn't like being in the weight room because he wasn't very strong so he was embarrassed. Now he's strong. All those things have changed now and he's gotten to where he's comfortable and confident in his own abilities and his own body, I guess you'd say, but a lot of Brian's problems were mental, or lack of mental toughness, so a lot of credit goes to Brian for sticking it out, hanging in there and maturing mentally. But his family are good people, good mom, good dad, they supported him as well and really stayed after him. He's a smart kid, too. He made over an 1100 on his SAT. He's not just a dumb jock, he's an intelligent football player, so he's a coachable kid but a lot of it was mental and I'm proud of him for hanging in there and continuing to mature that way.

IT: What did the Texas coaches tell you that they like about Brian?

Fisher: In all honesty, recruiting is what I call a cookie cutter mentality. College coaches like every defensive lineman to be 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6, they'd like every one of them to weigh 250 or more, they'd like 'em all to run 4.7s or 4.8s, and Brian has the cookie cutter body. By that, I mean he's the prototypical defensive lineman for Division I football.... We understand that Brian is very blessed and I think he realizes that the good Lord made him as big as he is and that's a great honor, but at the same time it carries a great responsibility because now he's got to represent South Grand Prairie at The University of Texas. He's got to represent the town of Grand Prairie, our coaching staff, his family. With great ability comes great responsibility. But I think what they saw more than anything is what all of us see, and it's that word potential. He's such a big body and he runs so well and he's athletic and he's gotten stronger and we all know that he's not through growing. He's a 17-year old high school kid so you know hopefully some day he's going to be even bigger than he is now but I'm sure as with most colleges, height, weight, all of those things are very, very important. Sometimes that doesn't always make the best player but in Brian's case I think that makes a great player, and we're really looking forward to what he's going to do at Texas.

IT: What are the areas of Brian’s game that he needs to improve upon to be successful in college?

Fisher: I think Brian will tell you the first one he continues to work on is strength. He can be so much stronger for his body size. He grew so fast at such a young age he's just now getting comfortable in the size that he is. I think one thing that will help, although he worked hard in our strength and conditioning program here, but I think once you get to the next level and you're eating at the training table and you're working with the strength coach and you're lifting weights year-round, I think he's going to do nothing but improve in that area and as your strength comes, your athleticism improves. He's strong for a high school kid, but to play like we expect him to play, he's going to have to get stronger than that to go up against those guys on the offensive line. They aren't bad at that level. [Laughs] Some of them are 6-6, 330-340 pounds, so speed will be great, but you've got to have a lot of strength too, so I think he'll really work hard to improve his strength and that will be a great asset for him.

IT: What do you look for him to work on between now and when he leaves for Austin in June?

Fisher: Well, Brian doesn't play another sport so he's got to stay involved in the weight room and that's the hardest thing when you're a senior. You've got a lot of things going on, with senior graduation and all the things that go with your senior class trip and all the fun and excitement of your last year in school, but at the same time, you've got that responsibility to represent us well at the next level and you've got that responsibility to The University of Texas, so Brian's gotta keep working. He's got to continue to run and lift and stay in great shape because you know how it is now, they'll expect him to show up in June and be a part of their summer program, so he's not too far away from being at The University of Texas. He's gotta continue to stay active and stay in great shape and not just maintain what he's got, he needs to try to improve, he needs to up all of his lifts, what his totals are and his maxs and try to get his 40 down. I know even right now he's working with a personal trainer, which shows his dedication. He's going over to South Lake Carroll several days a week and working with someone who's trying to increase his speed right now, so that shows his dedication and how successful he wants to be.

IT: Could he potentially grow into a defensive tackle?

Fisher: I don't think so only because most people don't want their defensive tackles to be 6-foot-6. In all honestly, the pad level becomes an issue. The guards are shorter therefore the tackles have to be shorter. Everyone wants their prototypical offensive tackle to be 6-foot-6, but most offensive line coaches will tell you they want their guards to be 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, because you can get too tall where you can't get your pads under anybody, and in this line of work, low pads wins every time, so I think Brian will be a matchup for an offensive tackle who is 6-foot-6 when he probably ends up 6-foot-6. That's my personal opinion, but I know enough about football that I think that he'll actually be too tall to be an inside player. But I also think he would be a waste inside because he has too much athleticism to be matched up inside the tackle box. He needs to be out on the edge, making plays, chasing the quarterback, containing, doing those kind of things, because he's athletic enough to do that.

IT: What else did he play for you guys?

Fisher: We had him in some of our short yardage and goalline offensive stuff. He learned to play our backside tight end in our jumbo package. At times we put him in the game if we wanted to use his body to block down and run the counter behind him. He also helped us on PAT and field goals because he is such a big body. He's real good at that because he takes up a lot of space, hard to run around him. We also taught him as a backup on our punt team to help us there with depth. We make all of our guys learn more than one position and we want all of them to be able to contribute on special teams, and Brian was able to do that. He could be on the PAT team as a tight end because of his size.

IT: What did Brian mean to your football program?

Fisher: We were fortunate enough to have a great defense and Brian -- defensive line-wise, when you're only playing with three defensive linemen, you better have three good ones, and the biggest thing he brought to it was an imposing figure when he was rushing the passer, putting his arms up. I don't know how many balls he batted down, just because he has a great wingspan, which will be great at the next level. He has really long arms and fingers. He meant a lot to our defense because he was a very imposing looking -- as they say as a coach, you'd want him to step off the bus first whenever we got to wherever we were going. We might be out there playing with a lot of 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9 guys, but if he came off the bus first at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, you knew you were going to be in for a battle. He was an imposing figure to other people. A lot of football is being able to impose your will on the opponent, and a lot of football is intimidation, and having him out there in uniform in pregame warmups did not hurt our chances.

IT: Is there a defining moment for you that exemplifies Brian's ability as a football player?

Fisher: Probably that first game that he got to start in varsity when he came up and started at defensive end vs. that L.D. Bell team about halfway through his junior year. I think that was his defining moment because he probably hadn't been in the game four or five minutes and made a good play in the backfield of L.D. Bell where he knocked a fumble loose, and Deron Fontenot who is going to Oklahoma State, picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown in what was going to be a really, really hard fought game and we end up blowing them out 45-14 or something. Brian's play started the momentum for us in what was going to be a tough, tough game. He hadn't been on the field four or five minutes. Of course, we were proud of that just from the standpoint that we had made the decision to bring him up, he needed something good to happen for him early so his confidence would be up, and all of a sudden, boom, he makes that great play. The coaches all looked around and said, OK, he's going to be OK, and from then on he played lights out for the next five or six weeks and made all-district and then just had an unbelievable senior year, so I think that was the defining moment when he got his first start as a junior and made the most of it.

IT: With his athleticism, could he have played other sports?

Fisher: He could have been a post player in basketball. We don't tell our kids they have to be one-sport athletes, but usually most of them are smart enough to figure out. If I want to be as successful at this as I can, especially someone with Brian's ability, I'm going to have to be in the weight room in off-season, and when you go off to play basketball and other things, that's great too but you lose out on that off-season time. One area where Brian was really trying to make up ground was his strength and he's made up a lot of ground there and I think him being a one-sport athlete and spending his off-season in the weight room was probably the smartest thing he ever did, and because of that now he's getting a heckuva benefit with a free education to The University of Texas. It's going to be a good deal for him not just for the next four or five years but for the next 30 or 40 years when he has a career in whatever he decides to do after he gets an education at Texas.

IT: What is it that made Brian a successful player coming off the edge?

Fisher: I think you have to have a real desire, a real want-to because you're constantly going to face not only the offensive tackle, you might also have a tight end, you might have a back in the backfield chipping, and people schemed things up to block Brian. They wouldn't just put one guy on him, so he might be dealing with a tight end and a tackle, he might be dealing with a tackle and a back, so you definitely have a tenacious, stay-after-them. And you're going to get double-teamed, but again, talking about that three-man line, if we drop eight men into coverage, if we don't get some pressure on the quarterback, it doesn't matter if you drop 10 of them into coverage, so the three down linemen had to constantly stay after the quarterback and try to pressure him. I think back to the Denton Ryan game, and they threw it 48 times, and there's nothing harder than pass rushing the quarterback 48 times, but a lot of our pressure that we got on the quarterback came from Brian coming off the edge, and he actually got a great hit on their quarterback in the end zone that ended up being an unbelievable knock on their quarterback that hopefully made him worry about that for the rest of the night. It happened early in the game and was probably a contributing factor in us winning that game in overtime. You know, Denton Ryan had never lost a first round playoff game in their school history, and they had never lost a first-round game in Texas Stadium, so us beating them in overtime was a huge, monumental task for our program and a big feather in our cap. You've got to stay after it as a defensive end because you're going to face a lot of adversity, you've got to continue to fight, and then you're sitting there fighting like crazy to rush the quarterback and then he scrambles, and you've got to retrace and all of sudden react and now try to contain. You've got to change your mentality from attack to contain, so it takes a special person to play the position and Brian has a lot of the attributes.

IT: Over the last several seasons, Texas has a history of playing true freshman DEs. Is Brian capable of continuing that tradition?

Fisher: I think Brian possibly could. I think personally as a coach, I like it when kids are able to redshirt. Now, redshirt is a dirty word if you're talking to a 17-year old kid. They don't understand that. Personally as a coach, knowing what I know, I think it's great for a kid to get in there, get to a) learn the system and b) get used to college and the life of college which is not easy your freshman year, getting used to the rigors of academics, and study hall, and getting to class on time and all those things, but I think if anybody's got the frame to go in and have an impact as a freshman, Brian is definitely one of those kinds of guys. Selfishly, I hope he gets to redshirt and play the next year and have four years of eligibility, but if they have to put him on the field, hey, nothing wrong with that. I know he'd be happy about that but personally, selfishly knowing what it would do for him, I'd love to see him to get another year in the weight room, get a spring football under his belt. Going in (in June), he won't get to do spring football, he'll do a little of summer workout, and then he'll just have fall camp and boom, you're playing Oklahoma and Texas Tech four weeks later. There's just not a lot of time, so in a perfect world, I'd like to see him redshirted, but if they have to put him out there, I think he'd do fine.

IT: Is there anything you'd like to add about Brian that we didn't already cover?

Fisher: We're just really excited for Brian and really proud of him. He has great parents, a great support system, and we're just really excited about knowing -- I've never had a player at The University of Texas. I've had them at a lot of places, but never at Texas, so I'm looking forward to my free tickets to the Cotton Bowl when Texas and Oklahoma play. [Laughing] I told Brian I'm looking forward to my Rose Bowl tickets, or Orange Bowl, or wherever they're at. I said, It's about time that coach Fisher gets a payoff. We're just really excited for him and look for him to have a great five years at Texas.

Also see: Ellis Could Be An Awakening Giant For Texas

More exclusive Brian Ellis photos

Exclusive Brian Ellis combine video

UT's Signing Day bio: An all-state and two-time first team all-district pick at defensive end who posted 120 tackles and 17 sacks over his final two seasons … also played tight end … earned honorable mention 5A all-state by The Associated Press as a senior … also a first-team all-district (6-5A) selection … totaled 55 tackles, 16 TFL and nine sacks … named Fort Worth Nike Camp MVP … named to Dave Campbell's Super Team first team in the preseason … helped lead team to a 10-2 record and an appearance in the playoffs in 2005 … earned first team all-district honors as a junior … tallied 65 tackles and eight sacks as a junior … earned a starting position half way through the season … also participated in track and field … member of the Decca business organization … volunteered as a guest speaker at local elementary schools on prep game days … played pee-wee football until middle school when he took up the trombone and then switched back to football in high school … interested in model cars and enjoys playing video games … full name is Brian Christopher Ellis … born on Nov. 20, 1987 in Grand Prairie, Texas.

"It was my favorite school and I came in with the mindset that if they offered me, I was going to commit. It's always been my favorite school. It was my team growing up."


All photos: Will Gallagher/Inside Texas

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