From Under the Water Tower To Under the Big Lights: The Story of Alex “Skitter” Ellis

thumbnail by Addie Mister

If you walked into the town of Delmar Delaware on any fall Friday night, you might think it was a ghost town. Standing on the street you might hear a muffled roar coming from the high school stadium. When you found that stadium you would have looked up in the crowd and seen every single person dressed in blue and orange. The Delmar Wildcats are a beacon for the love the people have for their town and the pride they feel for where they live.  The town of Delmar seems to have been plucked from the heart of Texas. In Delmar Delaware football is life.

Looking back a few years in this tiny town of Delmar, one may have seen the stereotypical small town all-American quarterback Alex “Skitter” Ellis. Everything in his life seems to be going great. He has the perfect girlfriend, great friends, and popularity that can only come from being quarterback of the high school football team. The Delmar football team works hard and they win. They have the support of the town rallying behind them. Skitter Ellis seems to have the world at his finger tips. Little does he know the next five years will consist of a constant battle to achieve his goals. He has the ambition of a young boy with a big dream, a dream to play big time football. “I knew that it would take a lot of work to get on the field,” he said, “especially coming from a walk on position.” He has the desire to prove he has what it takes, not just in Delmar, but out in the big world, past the water tower.

After graduating high school Ellis makes a decision for himself. He decides to attempt walking on the University of Tennessee football team, no easy feat for a kid out of Delmar Delaware. He will battle multiple injuries throughout his career. He will not even play a game until his fourth year in the Vols’ program. His Junior year he would have to endure the pain of an injury and battle through mentally and physically to finish his season. His senior year is when he would find all of his hard work finally paying off. By the time it was all over Ellis would become an inspiration and finally achieve his dreams.

Ellis attempted to walk on to the University of Tennessee football team in 2011. He was successful but had a long way to go. “I knew I could play big time ball, but I knew I had to get bigger first, so it took a couple years to get there.” He was a squad member for 2011 and 2012. He then gained forty-five pounds in the off season of 2013. He was finally going to get to play in his first Division I football game, but a week before the game he fractured the navicular bone in his right foot. He had surgery on August 21st, 2013.  The intention was to have him healed and back on the field in six to eight weeks. Unfortunately, he fractured the bone again and had to sit the bench the rest of the season. 2013 ended up being his redshirt season and he would have to wait another year to attempt to make his dreams come true.

Ellis’ junior year was the year his hard work would begin to pay off. He played in thirteen games and had one start at tight end.  His first catch of his career came in a game against Ole Miss in mid October of 2014.  This game would also be memorable not for his catch but for his third injury. Ellis tore his labrum in three places, tore the bicep off the bone, and separated his shoulder during this game. At this point it would seem as if he was going to be shorted out of his dream again, but no. Ellis finishes out the season postponing his surgery till February of 2015.

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Ellis celebrating his first college touchdown.

Within that 2014 season Ellis saw major accomplishments. He caught his first college touchdown on a fake field goal against Missouri. When asked about the touch down Ellis said, “It was like I had no control the only thing I could do was smile and laugh.” Not only was this moment special for Ellis, but also his friends and family. They had just flown down for that particular game and were able to witness this career highlight. Ellis finished the 2014 season with six catches for 115 yards, but still had the lingering surgery he needed waiting for him in 2015.

 

Three injuries within a two-year time span is a lot for any athlete. When asked what the effects of those injuries were Ellis said he turned to the Lord.  He was able to rethink his relationship and “draw closer to him.” Ellis also said the injuries had an effect on his drive. He knew what he was capable of and he “wanted to get back out there with [his] teammates so [he] could contribute to the family [they] had become.”

 

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After receiving his scholarship, Ellis shares an embrace with coach Butch Jones. 

Ellis is the type of player who gives everything to his team, and luckily for him, his team gave back to him as well. On December 22, 2014 the Vols were preparing for their trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl. Butch Jones, head coach, was leading a team meeting when he announced he would be distributing some early Christmas gifts. The first name to be called, Alex Ellis. He had no idea what was coming his way. In a video posted by the Vols football program, Ellis can be seen opening his package and being speechless about what was inside. In that Tennessee orange wrapped box was a paper and a pen, a scholarship for Ellis. His entire team stood from their seats and gave Ellis a standing ovation.

 

The team that Ellis had given so much to was finally giving back to him. When asked about this experience Ellis said, “That was an awesome time for me, my family, and just having my teammates there through it all was the best.” He decided to keep the big news to himself and his family members and asked them not to tell his parents. He showed up at home on Christmas Eve and had the papers rewrapped. He gave them too his parents for Christmas, “They cried, the first thing my mom said was ‘this is your next college bill’.” Ellis said his mom had done so much for him that he could never repay her, being able to tell her she didn’t have to help him pay for school anymore was a dream come true.

Four years after Ellis made the leap and decided to walk on at Tennessee, it was finally his senior year. He played in thirteen games and made eight catches for 117 yards. Even after his February surgery he proved to be a useful team player. Ellis ended his career with the Outback Bowl. He played the best game of his entire career against Northwestern. He made three catches for 74 yards one of which included a career long 42-yard catch.  When asked about how he felt now looking back on his accomplishments and his last game Ellis had this to say:

“The lord puts you in certain situations and gives you opportunities to do what you love and declare his name. I’m just thankful he gave me all these opportunities. There’s a quote that goes ‘I’m thankful for it all. The highs, the lows. The blessings, the lessons. The setbacks, the comebacks. The love the hate…everything.’ and I thought that is exactly true because I wouldn’t have rather it end any other way than that last game.”

It seems fitting that a man who worked so hard to achieve his goals would come out on top in his last game. For everything Ellis put into his career, he got exactly what he deserved.

The story of Skitter Ellis proves your dream doesn’t have to dwell on being the best. A dream can consist of striving to be the best that you can be. Little towns like Delmar Delaware are the backbone of America, and the people that come out of those towns like Alex Ellis make the world a better place to live in. You don’t have to play football or any sport for that matter to learn from this story. Delmar will always have a place in Ellis’ heart. The motto of Delmar sports was “last one outta town turn out the lights.” Ellis is the kind of guy that is the first one there and the last one to leave. In his last game of the season he was able to walk off the field and turn off those lights knowing he completed his goal. Ellis now can say he shares a team name with names like Peyton Manning, Jason Witten, and Eric Berry. When asked what he thought of this fact he said “hopefully it shows that there are dreams to be chased no matter where you come from or who you are, all it takes is a lot of hard work and a vision and you can accomplish anything you want.”

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