Jan. 24, 2014
RUSTON, La. - Justin Ellis is not a huge fan of jelly beans. Although he does not have an aversion for the bean-shaped sugar-filled candy, for a guy whose nickname is `Jelly Bean,' the reasoning for the moniker is a bit peculiar.
"Coach (David) Taylor in my freshman year of high school when I played varsity - he thought a lot of me and just decided one day he was going to call me Jelly Bean," Ellis said. "No one ever knew why, but before I knew it, a couple teammates starting calling me that and now the world calls me that. It just went from there and everyone calls me that now. Even my family calls me Jelly or Jelly Bean now."
The 6-foot-2-inch, 357 pound defensive lineman hails from Neville High School in his hometown of Monroe where, as a child, his dream of playing high school football for the tradition-rich Tigers in north Monroe was priority number one.
"Growing up, I watched all the teams go through Neville and have great seasons, so we knew we had big shoes to fill," Ellis said. "Every year, we worked to get to the state championship at Neville. Sometimes we fell short, but we worked hard every year."
Ellis was a first team all-district and all-state defensive line for Neville head coach Mickey McCarty, and while Ellis' teams fell short of his childhood state championship dreams, his four years as a standout defensive lineman at Neville were worthy enough for Louisiana Tech to come calling.
Over the course of Ellis' high school career, Conroy Hines, the former wide receivers coach for LA Tech and a Neville High School alumnus, made the trek down Interstate 20 to his alma mater and ultimately came back to Ruston with an admirable commitment.
The recruiting paid off and Ellis eventually went on to sign with the Bulldogs because of the family atmosphere provided at Tech and the room for growth he recognized in the coming years.
"I did not want a school that had already made it to the big time. I wanted to be a part of something that was growing instead of something that was already there."
Another important deciding point that factored in for Ellis was his family, and in particular, his mom.
"In the end, I wanted to be close to my mom," he said. "My mom means a lot to me and I wanted her to be able to see me play every Saturday and be able to drive to close games. My family is so close to me now and they are able to make it to every game, so it is worth it."
Following his fifth year with the 'Dogs, Ellis' family has watched him make a career of intimidating opposing offenses with his size, ability and athleticism, but it is his hard work and accountability that have helped him become a playmaker since the beginning and are qualities that Ellis says can be credited all the way back to his high school playing days at Bill Ruple Stadium.
"While at Neville, I learned to work hard every single play," he said. "Football is not a very forgiving sport. You have to work hard every play and every time you are out there. They taught me to work hard because it is a family sport too in a way. You have to be accountable. That is one thing they taught me all the way through high school."
An advantage Ellis has had on his side since his very first day as a Bulldog football player is defensive line coach Stan Eggen, who has been at LA Tech for all five years Ellis has been a part of the team despite the senior having to deal with changes with head coaches.
"The consistency and not having to learn an entirely different scheme or another style of play has been helpful," Ellis said of Eggen's coaching style. "All these years, I have just been getting better at Coach Eggen's style instead of having to switch defensive line coaches. That has been the one thing that has helped me a lot."
Eggen's outlook on Ellis' career on the defensive line for the Bulldogs is similar to that of a father figure. In Ellis' fifth season, it seems as if respect comes easy these days for the player and coach.
"I am very proud of Justin and how he has matured as a player and a young man," Eggen said. "He has done everything we asked. He has been very humble and has worked hard to become better. That is what I respect most about him every day is him coming out and working and taking care of his business."
While respect on the field has been gained, one flaw Ellis has that Eggen does not appreciate is his diet.
"My eating habits are horrible," Ellis admitted. "I won't eat a lot throughout the day, but when it is time to eat I make sure I eat and it's usually something bad for me."
Ellis' nutritional intake may not be what Eggen has in mind, but his admiration for the defensive lineman as an athlete has never wavered.
"We have more closed-door conversations about [his eating habits], but he is obviously a big guy and yet, he is a very good athlete," Eggen said. "He has very good explosion and quickness, so for his body type he is an excellent college football player. What we talk about with his weight is if he can keep it down then I think he could be more efficient as a player in the fourth quarter."
Ellis' main concern these days is keeping the 2013 Bulldogs together as a team after a tough start to the season. As the second half of the season looms and with the chance for a conference title still on the table, Ellis is confident of the turnaround for LA Tech this season after experiencing one of similar sorts in 2011 after winning the WAC Championship.
"This is the closest team I have ever been on and I thought we would come onto the field like that, but I guess we just weren't as ready as we thought early on and we are learning from it now," Ellis said of the 2013 season. "We still have that feeling like we can still do it and have success this season. That is what I tell these younger guys. I have been in this situation before and if you keep working, it can happen. It is just keeping our heads down and working hard."
Following a 4-8 season with the Bulldogs, Justin `Jelly Bean' Ellis' career commenced and as he will no longer be on the field terrorizing opponents in the red and blue, his final game as a senior marked a bittersweet ending for the defensive lineman.