Land of 10 writer Tyler Donohue breaks down a Penn State recruit every Monday. In this edition, we evaluate cornerback target Keaton Ellis. Be sure to check out recent analysis on receiver Justin Shorter, defensive linemen Judge Culpepper, Aeneas Hawkins and PJ Mustipher, running back Ricky Slade, tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz, linebacker Jesse Luketa, safety Isheem Young and edge rusher Micah Parsons.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Less than three miles away from Beaver Stadium, approximately 12 hours before it began to fill with more than 101,000 Penn State fans, Keaton Ellis wore a wide grin while celebrating a season-opening win for State College Area High School.
The Little Lions, a name bestowed as an obvious nod to the legendary college football program that in many ways defines this community, had just wrapped up a 45-12 victory over J.P. McCaskey High. Ellis showcased his skills early during the evening, though he ultimately spent a majority of the matchup sidelined because of State College’s insurmountable lead.
He hit the field a much different player than the sophomore who started turning heads in 2016. Ellis, the son of former Penn State receiver Bruce Ellis, spent last fall competing at 5-foot-9, 168 pounds. He begins his junior campaign 6-foot, 168 pounds.
“My speed, size and length have definitely improved as I’ve grown a lot,” Ellis said. “I’m able to cover bigger receivers, especially at the high school level.”
He helped spearhead a defensive attack that stifled McCaskey en route to a 45-6 halftime advantage. State College allowed less than 30 total yards at that point, and Ellis displayed elite run coverage skills in the process.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) September 4, 2017
Ellis, who also lined up at receiver and punt returner, didn’t make much of an impact with the ball in his hands Friday night. However, he showed signs of his progression toward blue-chip status as a defensive back.
His length and anticipation were evident in pass coverage, although opponents typically stayed away from his side of the field. State College did come away with multiple interceptions while Ellis was on the field, and those can be credited at least in part to his penchant for eliminating the player across from him.
It starts up front with an aggressive press and continues downfield as Ellis displays fluid hips and shadows receivers with ease. His balance in coverage and anticipation for the flow of a play really stand out, suggesting he could make an early impact within a collegiate defensive scheme and on special teams.
Even while playing with a considerably smaller stature last season, Ellis came up big for State College. He collected 32 tackles and 9 pass breakups as a sophomore, according to Josh Moyer of the Centre Daily Times.
Added size is a new asset this season, but a competitive mentality between the whistles is something long engrained within him.
“I’m all about being physical,” Ellis said. “That’s obviously a huge part of becoming a successful football player.”
He dished out a thunderous smack near the sideline during first-quarter action, helping to set the tone for a dominant effort from State College. This collision was caught on film by Mark Brennan of Fight On State.
— Mark Brennan (@MarkXBrennan) September 2, 2017
Simply put, Ellis plays pissed off, and I mean that in the most endearing way. This mindset also extends to offense, evidenced by a clip of him springing a teammate for extra yards. The defender may still be feeling the results on Monday.
Open for TD but when pass goes to teammate he turns and does this… pic.twitter.com/N7FYfLIwlm
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) September 1, 2017
Ellis is also equipped with tremendous speed that continued to improve has his physical adds more bulk. He finished the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, a personal best, during a June 15 camp at Penn State.
“I wanted to go there, work hard, do the best I possibly could and earn that offer.”
The Nittany Lions extended a scholarship offer that day. He attended the team’s Saturday opener against Akron and intends to return for several matchups this season.
Penn State has yet to target any other high school junior in Pennsylvania, so James Franklin certainly holds Ellis to a high standard.
It will be extremely tough for any other college program to contend with Penn State in this recruitment. Family ties to the team, proximity to campus and his longtime affection for Nittany Lions football presents a major challenge to any other contenders.
Buffalo and Syracuse remain the only other programs to present an offer, though plenty are starting to express elevated interest. Ellis mentioned Houston, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Rutgers among that group, and he may head to a Fighting Irish game this fall.
I fully anticipate more offers to arrive as his junior-season film circulates throughout college recruiting offices. Ellis possesses the range, toughness and physicality coaches covet.
Penn State is clearly the team to beat, and Ellis is a strong candidate to become an early cornerstone of the Nittany Lions’ 2019 class, but it’s only a matter of time before this pursuit becomes increasingly more crowded.
“I’m trying to build my résumé,” Ellis said. “I think teams will like what they see so maybe some new opportunities will come.”
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