In high school, David Ellis did a little bit of everything, shifting from running back to receiver, to safety to return man.
As a recruit, “athlete” was settled upon as the best description.
After a season at Indiana, the athlete description less formally remains, while positional versatility continued to be a theme during Ellis’ freshman campaign in Bloomington.
“David’s one of the best athletes on the team,” running backs coach Mike Hart said. “I think if you ask anybody, they’ll tell you that.”
The Indiana coaches saw something early in Ellis at the 2019 fall camp.
Arriving in August with both the physique and the athleticism of an upperclassman, it became clear that the Michigan product would find a role in year one with the program.
And he did just that.
As a true freshman Ellis caught 16 passes for 173 yards, rushed 9 times for 53 yards, returned 28 kickoffs for 579 yards, and returned 1 punt for 9 yards.
Now the challenge for the IU coaching staff is to find even more ways to utilize Ellis.
Junior running back Stevie Scott sees the athlete, but he found another apt one word description for his teammate.
“David is very versatile,” Scott said of Ellis.
Why are the running backs coach and starting running back discussing Ellis?
That versatility Scott speaks of is leading Ellis to a new primary position in 2020.
He’s going back where he started.
“He played running back in high school, was recruited as a running back/athlete,” Hart said.
Wide receiver Whop Philyor compared Ellis’ build and athleticism to former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley last year, and with potential like that the idea is simply to find more opportunities for the play maker.
“We’re going to get him on the field wherever we need him,” Hart said. “He’s one of the best athletes on the team, dangerous kickoff returner, a big kid, he’s 5-11, 210 pounds. He’s got some speed as you can see from the Penn State game when he caught that quick screen to the boundary and took it for about 70 (yards). He’s an explosive play guy that we need to find a way to get the ball to in whatever way we can.”
Indiana already has a two headed monster of big bruising backs in Scott and sophomore Sampson James.
But Scott recognizes that Ellis will bring a different element to the running back position for IU.
“Adding David to the running back room, he’s just adding more speed, hands, he’s physical, and those are things that we need,” Scott said. He’s definitely one of those guys that you can put in and he’s going to go out there and make a play whether it’s receiver, running back, kick returner, punt returner. Just give him the ball and he’s gonna make a play. So adding him to the running back room just (makes the group) more diverse.”
Ellis is likely to be the change of pace runner out of the backfield while posing a threat to catch the ball wherever he lines up.
Of course IU is likely to continue to use Ellis on special teams as well.
While the position label that gets pinned on Ellis might change, the idea is the same as it was in high school and year one in college.
“He’s just a guy that we’re going to see what he can do,” Hart said.
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