A study in resillience
Two ACL injuries can’t keep Ellis down
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.