Keaton Ellis made a substantial impact as a true freshman cornerback last season, building a reputation for himself as someone who was always around the ball.
Ellis came to the Nittany Lions with a lot of notoriety as a local kid from State College Area High School, and he certainly met expectations. He played in all 13 games, including getting one start, forced three fumbles (recovering one), broke up two passes and made 18 tackles (9 solo).
“I definitely improved a lot,” Ellis, on a Zoom call earlier this summer, said of his first year in the program. “Playing early, it kind of forces you to mature faster.
“I believe from after the season I have more confidence. Experience is key, especially at this level. Having the experience and getting more comfortable each and every snap, each and every day. I definitely feel like I learned a lot and definitely matured, and I was a better player from it.”
Ellis was an electrifying player on offense and defense at State High. He smiled when asked if he’d like to get a chance to have the ball in his hands somehow at PSU.
“I jokingly sometimes, I’ll be like, let me touch the rock a little bit,” Ellis said. “It’s probably not something you’ll see in the near future, but it’s something I’d like to do if I get the opportunity.”
He did have one interception as a true freshman and was asked how it’s different playing defense in college vs. high school.
“It’s a different level of play, different speed,” Ellis said. “You can make one mistake and that can be a difference.
“In high school, you’re more athletic, so you kind of can just go out there and you’ll find the ball and do this and that. But everybody’s on the same level as you (in college). Everybody is either just as talented or even more talented. There’s a lot more that goes into it mentally and physically that’s way different than high school. That’s why it’s much more fulfilling to make a play at the college level.”
Ellis knows what areas he can improve on as a sophomore this fall.
“A big thing for me is just maturing as a football player, understanding the game more, understanding our playbook and understanding offenses,” he said. “Find the ball in the air, my footwork. Just lifting my game in all levels. Stuff I’m working on is stuff I’m good at and stuff I’m not good at, so I’m just trying to work on everything and keep becoming better each day.”
The Lions will have to replace John Reid at one cornerback spot. Returning starter Tariq Castro-Fields is back, and Ellis figures to be the other corner, although that’s not certain yet.
“We have a very talented group right now, across the board all the corners, especially in our class,” Ellis said. “It’s gonna be a battle. It’s competition. No spot’s given. Even Tariq’s spot’s not given. We’re all working very hard and pushing each other because if we’re all getting better, then we’re better as a team and better as a unit.
“We have good camaraderie in the room, and we all work very hard and push each other. So I’m excited.”
Ellis spoke at length during his Zoom call about various aspects of the coronavirus and quarantine, how he and his teammates dealt with all the uncertainty.
“I think I’m a little bit even more motivated because you’re seeing sports and stuff can go away in an instant, so you’ve got to take it as a blessing to try and get back and play,” Ellis said.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with my teammates and my friends about different things, about what’s going on and how they feel. … I’ve learned a lot about myself and other people and their situations, what other people are going through at this time.”
Ellis also gave an eloquent response when asked about being able to speak to students from State High about racial injustice issues earlier this year.
“That was a really powerful call,” he said. It was some students from each of the sports teams. Student council, teachers, coaches, it was a good group of people. It was pretty much the leaders of my high school at State High.
“I just was trying to preach to them that if they’re on this call, they have power and they have influence in their community. They can make a huge impact even in State College. I just told them spread love, unity.
“Another thing I said is what makes sports so powerful is it brings a lot of people from different backgrounds, different races, that kind of stuff, together. So use that and be the influence and spread love. It was a great platform, and I’m glad people are making the effort to have communication, to have these talks so everybody can understand and educate themselves.”
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