A study in re­sil­lience

Two ACL in­juries can’t keep El­lis down

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Gra­ham Thomas Staff Writer gth­omas@nwadg.com ■

Lan­don El­lis knows way more about his left knee than he’d like to. And he’s got the scars to prove it. El­lis, a se­nior quar­ter­back at Siloam Springs, has torn the an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in his left knee twice in his high school ca­reer.

The first ACL tear hap­pened just days be­fore the start of his fresh­man foot­ball sea­son in 2015 while the most re­cent in­stance oc­curred last Oc­to­ber in El Do­rado in the Pan­thers’ eighth game of the sea­son, caus­ing him to miss the fi­nal two games and most of base­ball sea­son.

Head­ing into the 2018 foot­ball sea­son, El­lis (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) is back on the field once again for the Pan­thers — who open their sea­son Fri­day at Pryor, Okla. — and he’s de­ter­mined to be part of the cul­ture change around Siloam Springs foot­ball, which is un­der first-year head coach Bran­don Craig.

“I feel great,” El­lis said. “My knee’s prob­a­bly the best it’s ever been. It feels stronger than ever. I can tell by the way I run and the lifts I can do that it’s got­ten stronger.”

The in­juries

If you call El­lis by his first name — Lan­don — you’re not wrong, but you’re most likely to hear him re­ferred to by his nick­name, “L.T.”

“T is for Trey, my mid­dle name,” El­lis said. “Grow­ing up play­ing base­ball, there was a kid I played with named Lan­don, too, and it was eas­ier for me to go by L.T. to stop the con­fu­sion. Then it just kind of stuck.”

El­lis was a stand­out ath­lete com­ing up through the Pan­thers’ ju­nior high pro­gram as a sev­enth- and eighth-grader, but he missed all of his fresh­man sea­son with the torn ACL.

As a sopho­more, El­lis found his way onto the field in a few games in 2016, when thenPan­thers start­ing quar­ter­back Luke Lamp­ton went out with an in­jury.

El­lis wound up com­plet­ing 9 of 27 passes for 109 yards and two in­ter­cep­tions as a sopho­more while also quar­ter­back­ing the ju­nior var­sity team.

As a ju­nior, the Pan­thers put the ball in El­lis’ hands and he showed early that he could be a play­maker with his arm.

El­lis threw for a sea­son­high 312 yards and three touch­downs in a 35-21 win against Van Buren and then fol­lowed up with a four­touch­down, 244-yard night in a 31-24 win at Sheri­dan — the Pan­thers’ only two wins of 2017.

Over­all, he com­pleted 97 of 199 passes for 1,563 yards, 11 touch­downs and six in­ter­cep­tions.

But his ju­nior sea­son came to a halt at El Do­rado when he went down with his sec­ond ACL tear — and a torn menis­cus — in the first half. El­lis left the game af­ter being sacked, but he thinks the in­jury oc­curred on the play be­fore.

“I rolled out and when I went to throw (the ball) away, I planted and (the left knee) just gave way,” El­lis said. “I felt it. It was the same feel­ing as the first time. I knew what hap­pened. I tried to get back in, but I couldn’t. There was no way I could get back in.”

Get­ting back

Craig, who came to Siloam Springs af­ter a suc­cess­ful ten­ure at Oolo­gah, Okla., has dealt with his share of ath­letes and ACL tears.

He ad­mires the tough­ness that El­lis has shown while over­com­ing his ob­sta­cles.

“It’s a mind­set,” Craig said. “If you re­ally want to over­come that and come back, you’re go­ing to have to work re­ally hard. That does take a lot of men­tal tough­ness. It takes a lot of dis­ci­pline out­side, do­ing your ther­apy and things like that on your own. Tons of men­tal tough­ness, tons of time, and you have to work re­ally hard to get back to 100 per­cent and have that con­fi­dence that you can do ev­ery­thing that you were do­ing be­fore.”

El­lis had his ACL re­paired a few weeks af­ter the Pan­thers fin­ished the 2017 sea­son 2-8, prompt­ing Bryan Ross to re­sign as head coach af­ter nine sea­sons.

El­lis said he strug­gled men­tally with the in­jury ini­tially.

“Be­fore, when I tore it the

first time, I didn’t even know what an ACL was,” El­lis said. “I didn’t even know what it did for your knee or any­thing. … Then when I tore it ju­nior year, I was like, I don’t know if I should still be play­ing foot­ball. Being out for a year to­tal for two ACL surg­eries, and that’s foot­ball and base­ball sea­son right there, it’s tough.”

El­lis had plenty of mo­ti­va­tion to quit feel­ing sorry for him­self and get back on the field.

“My team­mates,” he said. “Because I knew they were all re­ly­ing on me, and I couldn’t give up on them, es­pe­cially with the new coach com­ing in. I didn’t want to leave them empty-handed our se­nior year. We’ve been play­ing to­gether since we were in sixth grade. I can’t just leave them out in the open.”

El­lis was lim­ited phys­i­cally when Craig took over the Pan­thers’ foot­ball pro­gram in the spring, but he said he used that time to get to know the coach per­son­ally. By the time he was cleared to start work­ing out in late April, Craig had be­gun in­stalling his of­fen­sive sys­tem and El­lis was more than ready to jump in feet first.

“It was a very long six months,” he said. “I had to be on crutches for a month and all the rehab that comes with it. When the time fi­nally came, it was much needed.”

El­lis fin­ished base­ball sea­son with the Pan­thers and joined the foot­ball pro­gram full-time. He went through all of spring ball and played quar­ter­back in the spring game and dur­ing the sum­mer off­sea­son pro­gram.

“I watched him go through spring and he had to go through some rehab things,” Craig said. “He was do­ing re­ally well in the spring and just kept do­ing well through­out the sum­mer. I felt like he’s 100 per­cent and ready to go.”

El­lis also com­pli­mented Siloam Springs trainer Brian Nitz for his role in help­ing him in his re­cov­ery.

“Coach Nitz is awe­some,” he said. “He’s way bet­ter than any per­sonal trainer or phys­i­cal trainer that you have to go pay money for. He knows you. It’s per­sonal. If you’re not want­ing to do it, he’ll push you. He will not let you just lay down and baby it.”

Coach on the field

El­lis cer­tainly has the re­spect of his team­mates, ac­cord­ing to se­nior cen­ter Dil­lon Conn.

“I have a lot of faith in L.T. because he has done this,” Conn said. “He’s still out there and that means he re­ally wants to play foot­ball and he’s re­ally in­vested into it. It’s easy to say af­ter two ACL tears, ‘Oh, I don’t want to play any­more. That’s re­ally hard.’ I can’t re­ally imag­ine how L.T.’s done this.”

Conn said El­lis is a great leader who com­mands the hud­dle and gets the Pan­thers lined up right.

“He brings en­ergy,” Conn said. “When he brings en­ergy, it brings ev­ery­one else up. He’s like that one spe­cial dude that helps ev­ery­one else rise to the oc­ca­sion. … I think it’s in­cred­i­ble. Hav­ing him back on the field hon­estly helps us out a lot. He brings a dif­fer­ent level that I don’t think any­one else could bring.”

Craig said El­lis needs to be a coach on the field as the team’s start­ing quar­ter­back.

“You’re train­ing him every day to learn as much as pos­si­ble re­gard­ing of­fen­sive schemes and things that we’re do­ing so he can be a coach on the field,” Craig said. “That’s what you want. You want an ex­ten­sion of your­self on the field with the kids and some­one that knows ev­ery­thing about what’s go­ing on and can tell ev­ery­body what to do.”

It also helps that El­lis has a pas­sion to un­der­stand the Pan­thers’ of­fense, Craig added.

“He’s a stu­dent of the game first,” the coach said. “He wants to learn. He wants to know what’s go­ing on. He has a good un­der­stand­ing of what we’re trying to do. He un­der­stands con­cepts we’re putting in. We’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can with him. Ob­vi­ously we’re go­ing to mon­i­tor the num­ber of car­ries he has. We don’t want him taking too many hits over the course of the sea­son, but we’re def­i­nitely go­ing to ex­pand the of­fense as far as we can with him.”

Cul­ture change

El­lis re­mem­bers being a kid and the Pan­thers hav­ing a run of suc­cess, first un­der

Billy Daw­son for the 2004 sea­son when the Pan­thers went 8-3 and then four years with Clint Ashcraft at the helm, all win­ning sea­sons and play­off years for Siloam Springs.

Since 2009, the Pan­thers have hit a dry spot — all un­der Ross — with one win­ning sea­son (6-4 in 2011) and mak­ing the play­offs three times, but two of those times came as au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

The Pan­thers had a good start on Aug. 17 with its ben­e­fit game against Pea Ridge, where they de­feated the Black­hawks 3-0. The Pan­thers were lim­ited of­fen­sively that night, not want­ing to show too much of their new of­fense on film, but you can be sure they will throw out all their weapons Fri­day against Pryor, El­lis said.

“As an of­fense, we’re look­ing great right now,” El­lis said. “We have so much se­nior lead­er­ship and so much se­nior tal­ent this year that it’s hard for us to look bad.

“We have a bunch of dudes, and we don’t just play for our­selves. We’re play­ing as a team. Of­fense is look­ing great, and de­fense looked out­stand­ing against Pea Ridge. I think that’s the best we’ve ever looked.”

El­lis be­lieves the Pan­thers can turn things around un­der Craig.

“We can def­i­nitely get back,” he said. “The main fo­cus right now is teach­ing those younger kids, the sev­en­t­hand eighth-graders, who are go­ing to be fu­ture Pan­thers. It’s all about bring­ing them up. I feel like Coach Craig is putting a lot more em­pha­sis on that. He’s mak­ing more coaches avail­able for those young guys. We’re build­ing up the whole pro­gram and it’s go­ing to get back to where it was.”

Bud Sullins/Specail to the Her­ald-Leader

Siloam Springs se­nior quar­ter­back Lan­don El­lis makes a throw against Pea Ridge dur­ing the two teams’ Arkansas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion ben­e­fit game on Aug. 17. El­lis and the Pan­thers open the sea­son Fri­day at Pryor, Okla.

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