October 15, 2009 8:12:00 AM
Alvin Ellis was accustomed to running over and past defenders in high school.
While he spent some time playing free safety, Ellis spent the most of his career at Columbus High School as a running back who used his speed to give opponents fits.
These days, Ellis is on the other side of the football making sure no one gets past him.
Ellis, a sophomore linebacker with the East Mississippi Community College football team, is just one of many former local high school standouts who is playing a key role in the squad''s quest for a national title.
EMCC will try to keep its perfect divisional record intact when it plays at 3 p.m. Saturday at Itawamba Community College.
With its 48-10 victory against Northeast Mississippi C.C., No. 10 EMCC (6-1, 4-0 North Division) secured a home playoff game Oct. 31 against the South''s No. 2 team in the state semifinals.
A victory in that game would earn EMCC the right to play host to the state championship game Nov. 7.
But the Lions have work to do before then, and Ellis will lead the charge on defense. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder, who was a 2009 NJCAA Preseason All-American Second Team pick, is tied with Jermayne Lett for the team lead in solo tackles (38) and leads the team with 64 total tackles. He is third on the squad with three and a half sacks and has four pass breakups.
Ellis'' performance this season isn''t surprising. Last year, he led the Lions with 72 solo tackles and 113 total tackles and was named to the MACJC All-State North Division First Team.
EMCC associate coach William Jones, who also is the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, said Ellis has been everything the Lions imagined he could be when they recruited him out of Columbus High.
"I wish I could coach him the rest of my career," Jones said. "He is a well-rounded and fine young man who comes from a great family."
The youngest of 10 children of Annie and Earnest Ellis, who still live in Columbus, Alvin said moving from running back to linebacker in junior college was a big adjustment. He admitted he didn''t know much about how to play his new position and wondered how he was going to be able to make his defensive reads.
Ellis also wondered how his height was going to affect his ability to play the position. But it''s a lot easier to dominate a game at linebacker when you have a sprinter''s speed.
"He outruns people to the point of attack," Jones said. "We knew he could run, but we didn''t know how competitive he was until he got into the game."
Ellis didn''t let go of his chance when he earned his first chance to see significant action. Last year, he had 11 solo and 16 total tackles against Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. and followed that up with 11, 15, 15, 24 (against ICC), and 17 against Mississippi Delta.
Those efforts helped to set the stage for this season. Ellis said he worked hard in the weight room to add 15 pounds and to increase his strength. He said his speed also has improved a little and is in the range of a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
Ellis said he has come a long way from last year when he said he initially couldn''t get comfortable playing linebacker. But he said he started to ease into the position as he learned how to read his keys and to understand what the coaches expected of him.
This season, Ellis had 13 solo and 20 total tackles in a loss to MGCCC and 13 total tackles against Northwest Mississippi C.C. the following week.
"At this time last year I had more tackles than I do now, but I am not worrying about that," Ellis said. "I just want to help the team play together and help the people on the field make adjustments. I feel I have played pretty well."
Jones said Ellis is so effective because he "steps up" in big games. Last week against NEMCC, Jones said Ellis seemed like he was in on every other tackle in the first half. He said Ellis'' competitiveness drives him to want to be everywhere all of the time.
That''s a great attitude for a linebacker.
"He''s going to get better when he leaves me because he only has played linebacker for two years and a little safety in high school," Jones said. "The more football he plays he will start to develop better instincts. It is just going to take time. I have got the ball rolling, and whoever gets him past me will make him an even better football player."
Ellis said he is anxious to continue to learn how to become an even better linebacker. He said he isn''t worried about which level he will play football at a four-year school. He knows his height might prevent Division I-A schools from recruiting him, but Jones said those schools better not pass up an opportunity to sign a player like Ellis.
A chance to win a state title and more will keep Ellis motivated to make sure the ball stops with him.
"I had no idea I would have this much success at this position," Ellis said. "I didn''t see it. I knew I was a good athlete, but I didn''t see all of this coming my way."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.