Ellerson sees more playing time

Brett Angel

It was early one morning in June when Jared Ellerson saw the light.

He proceeded to crawl out of bed, get dressed and make the one-mile trip from his University Village apartment to the Bierman athletic complex for his regular summer workout.

By that point, Ellerson was used to the routine. He knew the hard work was worth it – knew the weightlifting, the running, the waking up early would all pay off.

But he wasn’t always so convinced.

Ellerson’s true revelation came months earlier after completing his first active season as a member of Minnesota’s football team.

After catching nine passes for 113 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2002, the Copley, Ohio, native decided he was capable of more.

A nonconference game against Buffalo last year proved it. In that game, Ellerson scored touchdowns on his first two career receptions.

He was limited to just seven catches for a total of 69 yards the rest of the season, however, before some soul-searching and a discussion with his younger brother prompted Ellerson to rededicate himself. That meant turning up his self-discipline and attending offseason workouts – lots of offseason workouts.

“The summer before I only came to seven workouts, so that was pretty horrible,” Ellerson said.

But after a team meeting in which teammates expressed their desire to use the 2003 offseason as an opportunity to improve rather than rest,

Ellerson changed his ways.

“I took it to heart,” Ellerson said. “To see everybody else working hard – basically I had to push myself to stay with them. I couldn’t get left behind.”

This summer, Ellerson missed just two of the team’s nonmandatory workout sessions between May and August. And those, he said, were because of academic responsibilities.

The commitment paid immediate dividends.

Minnesota coaches, already aware of Ellerson’s improvement after an eye-opening spring practice, watched as he blew past receivers Tony Patterson and Keith Matthews on the depth chart during fall training camp.

“In my mind Jared was a lot more focused when he came back for two-a-day practices,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “If he hadn’t he wouldn’t be playing.”

Just weeks before fall camp began, junior college transfer Paris Hamilton – expected to start at wide receiver opposite Aaron Hosack – injured his knee. Hamilton had surgery in August and will sit out the rest of the season.

Ellerson seized the opportunity.

“The spot needed to be filled, and they basically just told me it was time to step up,” he said. “It just opened up the door for me to step in there and show what I could really do.”

He impressed coaches enough to earn a starting spot at wide receiver, and the Gophers have not been disappointed.

Through the first four games this season, Ellerson has doubled his career touchdown total to four and leads the team with 16 receptions.

His 323 receiving yards are also tops on the team and rank him third in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin’s Lee Evans (422) and Michigan’s Braylon Edwards (326). Ellerson’s 20.2 yards-per-catch average is better than Evans and Edwards, both considered potential NFL draft picks.

“He’s definitely made some big plays, but it’s been expected,”

Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. “He’s been doing it throughout the spring and the summer and it would just be sad if it didn’t transfer over into the season.”

Besides proving himself as a competent pass-catcher, Ellerson also helped bolster the Gophers’ conference running game (293 yards per game) with solid perimeter blocking.

“Number one, in our offense, to be a receiver you need to have the toughness to block,” co-offensive coordinator Mitch Browning said. The challenge now will be whether Ellerson can continue to perform at a consistently high level once the Big Ten season gets underway, beginning Saturday at Penn State.

“It’s going to be a test,” Ellerson said.

Pass or fail, for the first time in his Minnesota career Ellerson can say he is truly prepared.