Catawba’s Ellington starring in indoor league
By Mike London
When he stares out the window, Ron Ellington can see “The Fence” ó a controversial wall of wire and steel that rises 18 feet high on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Jaurez, Mexico.
The fence is a daily reminder for Ellington, a former Catawba football standout whose career ended with All-American accolades in 2007, that he’s a long way from home.
“It’s so different from North Carolina,” Ellington said. “No green. Not many trees. Hot. Just desert climate.”
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Ellington is a defensive lineman for the El Paso Generals and an MVP candidate in the Indoor Football League, which was formed in 2008 when the Intense Football League and United Indoor Football joined forces.
Ellington made 206 tackles for Catawba. Half of his 52 tackles for loss were sacks. Seven sacks came in one record-breaking frenzy against Mars Hill when he was a sophomore. That game made him a star. He never topped it, but he never stopped being reliable and productive.
Ellington has always gotten sacks, whether he was suiting up for Charlotte’s Independence High, Catawba or the El Paso Generals. That’s what he does.
The Generals play an odd brand of football that people used to watching Catawba wouldn’t recognize. It’s 8-on-8. Players carom crazily off 4-foot high walls. Punts aren’t allowed. The field is only 50 yards long. Scoreboards get lit up. When the Generals enjoy a stellar defensive night, they win 55-38.
About 90 percent of the plays called in the IFL are pass plays. That makes Ellington very valuable.
“It’s a throwing league made for pass-rushers and pass-blockers,” Ellington said. “I started out playing linebacker, but I was best as a pass-rusher, so they moved me to defensive end.”
Ellington has racked up 17.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 13 games, but he admits it’s not something he can do forever. The payscale in the IFL isn’t geared for making a living. Players need a second job to make ends meet.
“I am not making any money,” Ellington said. “But I’m doing this to get to where I want to be. I look at it like I’ve got to give up a little to gain a lot.”
Ellington knows exactly how he ended up in the dusty western corner of Texas, but it takes him 10 minutes to explain the twists and turns he’s taken in his pro career.
He didn’t hear his name called in the 2008 draft, but he hadn’t expected to. He tried out for a Canadian Football League team but wasn’t signed.
He worked his first job off the football field, counseling at a group home, and joined the Carolina Speed for their final three weeks.
He was picked in the United National Gridiron League’s online draft last January and was excited about suiting up for Team Virginia. He worked out diligently and got his mind right.
Opening day in the UNGL was postponed twice because of financial struggles. Then the league was cancelled ó at least for this year.
“After that, I went back to speak to the Speed, but their roster was full,” Ellington said. “But those setbacks were blessings. The coach at El Paso had heard about me. He called and asked If I was interested.”
When the Generals opened the season April 4 with a 50-17 thrashing of the Corpus Christi Hammerheads, Ellington was there, playing in front of a crowd of 3,250 at the 5,600-seat El Paso County Coliseum, which is also home to rodeos, livestock shows and the Ice Capades.
“Half the fans come across the border from Mexico and the other half are from El Paso,” Ellington said. “Fan support has been good because we’re the closest thing to the NFL in town. They used to have an Arena League team, but they were O-fer and didn’t make it. We’re 11-2. Everybody likes a winner. They come see us.”
The home games are fun, but road trips are rough. The Generals play often against Texas teams in the Lone Star Division, but it’s not like they can jump on a jet when they’re scheduled to play out of state.
Ellington will never forget the team’s 24-hour bus ride to St. Charles, Mo., to play the River City Rage. The Generals left El Paso on a Wednesday, rested up, then won 70-56 on Saturday.
Ellington’s best game came in one of the Generals’ early wins.
“I got off to a strong start with one of our games against Corpus Christi,” Ellington said. “They said I had 2.5 sacks, but after they reviewed the film they gave me credit for five.
“Word started getting around, and it got harder after that. Teams started changing their line splits against me. Teams started using the running back to stay in and help block me.”
Still, Ellington’s gotten his share of sacks. He ranks in the top five in the IFL in sacks and tackles for loss. There are only three O-linemen on the field, and he’s been a handful.
Ellington stays in touch with Catawba coaches and trusts that hard work will pay off. Catawba assistant Bob Lancaster has many contacts in Canada. It’s also likely the original Arena Football League will be back in business in 2010.
Ellington noted that former teammate Brad Roach is playing quarterback in af2, which is Triple-A for the Arena League.
There was also good news last month when Ellington’s El Paso teammate, offensive lineman Polo Gutierrez, was signed by the Buffalo Bills.
Scouts are everywhere, and you just never know who’s watching.
“I want to use this opportunity I’ve gotten in El Paso as a stepping stone to a higher level,” Ellington said. “I’m hoping my numbers will speak for themselves.”