Granite Bay senior fights adversity to honor his family name

Jacob Ellis perseveres in the face of heartbreak
By: Cameron Salerno
-A +A

To the outsider, Jacob Ellis is living the dream.

Being a multi-sport athlete, having a great group of friends and a rich athletic bloodline in his family tree would be ideal to most teenagers.

However, looking deeper behind the shoulder pads, helmet and jersey that donned the No. 4 on Friday nights for Granite Bay came heartbreak and tragedy. Jeff Ellis, Jacob’s father passed away last spring after a two- and a half-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

“Growing up with both my grandpa and dad being athletes, I had an insight to knowledge, guidance and stories on what is required to be great,” Ellis said. “They were my coaches and ensured that I stayed on the right path to follow in their footsteps. My dad played a major role in my football career, considering he’d been coaching my teams and I since the age of 7.”

 Jeff, in his early life was a highly coveted recruit coming out of Louisville, Kentucky, and ultimately decided to play football at Ohio State University. During his four years as a tight end for the Buckeyes, he caught 70 passes for 863 yards and five touchdowns. After his college career, Jeff was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cleveland Browns under current Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. A knee injury sustained during his time at OSU cut his pro career short.

Jacob’s grandpa, Jimmy Ellis, was a household name as a professional boxer, who during his career compiled a 40-12-1 record with 24 out of 40 victories coming by knockout.

In 1968, Ellis successfully won the vacant WBA Heavyweight title, defeating Jerry Quarry and defended his title in the same year versus Floyd Patterson. Two years later, legendary boxer Joe Frazier knocked out Ellis to take his title.

Jimmy would bounce back after his first career knockout loss to win his next three fights, which set up a date with Muhammad Ali one year later. The match ended in a referee stoppage in favor of Ali. In 1975, Jimmy fought his last match versus Carl Baker, which ended in an Ellis knockout. At age 35, Jimmy finally retired due to an injury that left him partially blind.

“Our relationship was long-distance considering he lived in Louisville, Kentucky, and unfortunately, he passed away when I was relatively young,” Jacob said of his grandfather. “He always loved seeing and hearing about my sports and my dad made sure to instill everything he learned from his father into me. He is one of the greatest role models in my life, being the heavyweight champion of the world.”

 With both his father and grandpa having big-ticket names, Jacob had a lot to live up to. He started playing football and basketball at age 7 in hopes of living up to his family's name.

Jacob attend Eich Middle School and played for the junior Grizzlies as a young teen. His dad was his coach through his junior days before attending Granite Bay. As a freshman, Grizzlies’ varsity football coach Jeff Evans remembered seeing Jacob for the first time.

“We had always watched (Jacob) play junior ball but the first time I talked to him was at freshman registration night,” Evans said. “We knew before he came into high school he was a pretty good player and we knew about his dad. The first thing I told him he has a lot to live up to going to Granite Bay because we had already identified him as a future leader for our program.”

Jeff Ellis became an assistant coach for the Granite Bay freshman and junior varsity teams. Jacob’s junior year is when his father started to become sick and was unable to coach.

“Jeff was a great football mind because of his experience playing at the highest level,” Evans said. “For a mountain of a man he was, he had the sweetest heart out of anybody.”

In his first year as a varsity player, Ellis became an anchor at linebacker for the Granite Bay defense. Ellis tallied third on the team in tackles with 79, recorded two interceptions and recovered three fumbles. His efforts that year helped Granite Bay capture the Sac-Joaquin Section championship over Del Oro. Ellis then hit the hardwood, where he became a role player for the Grizzlies’ basketball team that year.

In the offseason between his junior and senior year, Ellis faced his father’s passing only a few months before football season began. Ellis played with a heavy heart.

“Continuing playing football definitely still made me have a connection with my dad during my senior season,” Ellis confessed. “I knew what I was playing for and that he was watching over me every Friday night. I would think about my father before every game and it would get me really emotional, focused, determined and it helped me leave it all out on the field.”

Although the days leading up to the season were hard on Jacob, he still decided to go through with playing football his senior year.

“My family, coaches and close friends helped me focus on football and produce an impressive senior year, but it wasn’t easy,” said Ellis. “There were long days where it would be hard to focus but they kept me straight and all played an important role.”

 In his senior campaign, Ellis assumed a captain's role on defense. He recorded 96 tackles, which led the Grizzlies as well as picking off two passes and forcing two fumbles. His leadership on the defensive end helped Granite Bay land a first-round bye in the postseason. Granite Bay’s season ultimately came to a close when they fell to Jesuit, 42-0.

“As a captain, I wanted to make sure that I was a good role model and wanted to make sure I was instilling what my dad instilled as a coach,” said Ellis. “With the loss of my father all of my teammates and coaches were so supportive of me and I wanted to make sure I was doing the same for them as a thank you.”

At the Optimist All-Star football game this past week, Ellis played in his final prep football game at Sacramento State. Playing on the defensive end, Ellis picked off a pass and returned it 41 yards to the house for the touchdown.

He may no longer being playing football but Ellis once again has assumed a big role for the Grizzlies’ basketball team this season. He will look to help Granite Bay make the postseason after missing out on the big dance last year.

Although his dad is gone, Jacob vows to keep his father's legacy intact forever.

“I think my story will teach future students and athletes that with perseverance they can fight through anything that is thrown their way,” Ellis said. “Granite Bay is a family and they make sure nobody falls. I hope my story will inspire others to be the best that they can be.”