It takes a special player to play in the Big Ten as a freshman. To produce at a high level at running back at such a young age, it takes more than talent. It takes a physical specimen to withstand the bruising hits.
There was a time when it looked like Morgan Ellison would not withstand high school football.
After his junior year at Pickerington Central High School, Ellison was only considered a 2-star recruit, rated No. 120 nationally among running backs and No. 1,675 overall in the 2017 class. The Ohio native broke each of his legs during his sophomore and junior seasons. Basically, no one knew who he was. He had one offer from Toledo.
After a strong summer at various camps and other events, Ellison entered his final year of high school as a 3-star rated recruit. He boosted his stock further during his senior year when he rushed for close to 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns, averaging 7.9 yards per carry in the process.
But the doubts remained. A few other offers rolled in, but still, nothing from the power five. Ellison committed to play at Ohio University.
In a twist of fate, Indiana missed on a linebacker recruiting target late in their 2017 class, and took a flyer on Ellison. He decommitted from Ohio and became the last player to join IU’s 2017 recruiting class — and then just months later — the first freshman to shine for the Hoosiers.
After getting his feet wet against a stout Ohio State defensive line, Ellison had a strong game against Virginia. And then Georgia Southern happened.
Ellison had 25 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns in that week three contest. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, he had the size to compete in college at a young age. But Tom Allen saw more than just a kid with a big body, and he talked about it after that Georgia Southern contest.
“But he came into camp with an edge about him and a mindset about him, and really from day one has been a guy that, like, wow, he really was a better player than I thought. You mentioned he’s been injured his junior and sophomore year, and had several serious broken legs. So it’s not like he’s a guy that’s not tough, just bones break. So we just wanted to know what can he do when he gets healthy.
So he’s been a guy that sometimes you take a chance on a kid, and he ends up being a special one. So I think he’s going to be that kind of guy.”
Ellison would go on to lead the team with 704 yards and six touchdowns. He had another huge late-season game against Rutgers, compiling 149 yards and two touchdowns. Recognition followed, including winning Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice, being named IU’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year, and receiving honorable mention BTN.com Big Ten All-Freshman.
The cloud of questions no longer follows Ellison. Year one at Indiana was an unmitigated success, and it has been three years since his last broken leg. Now the only questions center on just how good he can be.
At some point, a huge athletic running back that plays with an edge goes from surprising freshman to a dominant force on the field. He proved last year that he could create his own space. With an offensive line returning two-deep experience at every position, Ellison is sure to see bigger holes this year.
As a true freshman, Ellison put up workman like numbers against the top four teams in the Big Ten East. He had 47 carries for 192 yards combined against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. Those numbers don’t blow you away, but that was a kid, playing against some of the best defenses in the country.
Although he is known for being big and fast, Ellison is planning to attack his sophomore season smaller and slower. Okay, not exactly.
Ellison said during the spring that he expects to benefit during his second season from slowing down and letting the game come to him more. Don’t worry, he’s faster than ever, hitting 22 miles per hour working with Dr. Matt Rhea in IU’s highly publicized speed training program. But with a year of college football under his belt, Ellison expects to have a better sense for how to seize on opportunities rather than “attacking the game” as he put it.
As far as size goes, Ellison is still going to be a big workhorse. The roster might show that he dropped a pound or two, but the real story is his body composition. Both Tom Allen and running backs coach Mike Hart made mention during the spring of Ellison’s physical transformation during the offseason.
“He’s changed his body,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “I had a guy that came (this weekend) and he hadn’t seen him the whole offseason. He was like, ‘Whoa!’ Right away, (Ellison) was the first guy he noticed.”
Already a guy that had people taking notice during his freshman season, Ellison seems destined for new heights in year two. It looks like that chance Indiana took is paying off…and then some.
Morgan Ellison was a kid whose body couldn’t hold up through much of high school — and it held back his progression and opportunities as a player. Now that same, albeit transformed, body is the very foundation of a promising sophomore season. Long term, Ellison’s opportunities seem limitless. He just needed someone to take a chance.
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