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Dwight Ellick: Twice the athlete

Justin Schuver | Friday, November 12, 2004

It’s hard to imagine the strain mentally and physically on a Notre Dame football player.

In addition to duties as a full-time college student, you’re expected to perform at the highest athletic level at least 12 Saturdays a year. You’re expected to lift weights, eat healthy and practice with your best effort nearly the rest of the time.

And if you’re Dwight Ellick, you’ll occasionally make time for a little run or two.

The senior cornerback is one of the unique breed in college sports – the two-sport athlete. In addition to his starting position as a cornerback for the Irish, Ellick is also one of Notre Dame’s biggest track-and-field stars.

Double the sports, double the fun

Ellick has always had speed, and has made use of it on both the football field and the track at Moose Krause Stadium. This year, he placed sixth in the 200 meters at the 2004 Big East Outdoor Track and Field Championships, coming in with a time of 21.66 seconds.

Being a two-sport varsity athlete hasn’t been that big a deal, the senior said, particularly because of the helpfulness and good attitude of the coaches in both sports.

“The coaches on both staffs – track and football – are definitely understandable and accepting to the guys who want to do football and track,” Ellick said. “So they don’t work you over time in both sports.

“Our strength and conditioning coach is the one who’s with us out there all season, and he talks to the track coach and they talk about what they’re going to do. They schedule my workouts together so that I’m able to do both of them at the same time.”

Ellick was born in Syracuse, N.Y. and later moved to Tampa, Fla., but not before first earning the mantle of the fastest high school runner in the Empire State. His time of 10.62 in the 100 meters as a junior in high school gave him the state championship in that event.

To his Notre Dame coaches, that speed has always been one of Ellick’s most impressive physical attributes, but not the only thing that makes him a good defensive back.

“He’s a kid that’s a real quick guy,” Irish secondary coach Steven Wilks said. “But we really emphasize technique and at times if you make a mistake, speed does not always allow you to recover.

“It’s great that he has speed but it’s something that we don’t try to rely on too much.”

Speed not always enough

Irish fans always seem to pick on the secondary. It’s inevitable.

The defensive backs are literally out on an island, usually one-on-one with an opposing receiver. When the defensive back wins the battle, everyone notices.

And of course, when the defensive back loses the battle, everyone notices.

“You’ve got to have a short memory – that’s probably one of the most important things to have besides the physical tools,” Ellick said. “You need great technique, have to have good anticipation. You’ve got to have great discipline and learn not to make the same mistake twice in a row.”

Ellick has certainly seen his share of criticism during his career at Notre Dame, but the cornerback has shrugged most of that blame off. His coaches continue to use his speed as an asset, putting him on the opponent’s best receiver at times.

“Ellick really allows us to key in sometimes on a team’s weapon, with his speed and technique,” Wilks said. “Anytime you can take away a big part of the other team’s offense, that can be a big boost for your team defensively.”

Although Ellick will finish his career as a cornerback, his talents on the high school gridiron were much more varied and extensive.

From Tampa to ‘Tundra’

As a senior in Florida, Ellick played in one of the most football-crazy states in the nation. The Sunshine State has never been short on talent, and Ellick was among the state’s all-around athletes.

As a senior at Wharton High School in Tampa, he made 70 tackles, intercepted three passes and broke up 16 more. In addition to his defensive prowess, Ellick collected 587 yards and scored six touchdowns as a receiver, while collecting 348 yards rushing.

He also became a track champion in his second state, winning the Florida Class 4A championships in both the 100 (10.60) and 200 (21.35) meter races.

So, how does an athlete from one of the warmest states in the world end up in the Siberia that is South Bend, Indiana?

“Education. When I came to visit, I got along good with all the players,” Ellick said. “That was one thing I was really looking for. I liked the coaching staff. They were coming off a big year and it seemed like a program that was definitely on the rise, so I wanted to be a part of that.”

The season Ellick referred to was the 2000 season in which head coach Bob Davie’s team went to the Fiesta Bowl, only to lose 41-9 to Oregon State.

Ellick’s freshman season was a disappointment to say the least. The Irish went 5-6 and Davie was fired after his fifth year of mediocre coaching. After resume fraud prevented George O’Leary from being named the next Notre Dame coach, Tyrone Willingham came to Notre Dame from Stanford.

Some players might be upset or frustrated from having to deal with a coaching change, but Ellick enjoys playing for the man his teammates have previously referred to as “The Prophet.”

“It’s great [to play for Willingham],” Ellick said. “He’s a coach who’s going to treat you like a man and going to expect you to hold yourself like a man. I like that. I’m not sure how other coaches around the country are, but what I hear from other guys I know, not all the coaches are like that.

“They’re not going to disrespect you in any way, but you know, they’re going to have a lot more say in what you do every time. Whereas here, the coaches will tell you what to do, but they’re also going to let you hold yourself accountable and be a man, both on and off the field.”

A bigger role this season

After making six starts last season, Ellick has blossomed into the team’s starter at cornerback along with fellow Floridian Preston Jackson.

Under new defensive backs coach Wilks, Ellick has been able to improve his skills, continuing the progress he made under coach Trent Walters – who accepted an assistant coaching job with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles after the 2003 season.

“To be honest with you they’re kind of the same guy in two different bodies,” Ellick said of the difference between Walters and Wilks. “They’ve both had basically the same teachings on technique and things like that. I’d probably say the only difference is that coach Wilks is a lot more hands-on.

“He’s a lot younger than coach Walters, so he’s a lot more energetic.”

Ellick’s improved play has shown this season, collecting his first interception of his career against Michigan and adding another pick against Washington.

He hopes that his improved play this season has done more than just quiet his doubters, but also impress professional scouts.

“My main goal is to go to the NFL,” Ellick said. “That’s been my dream since I was five years old. Besides that I do want to start my own business, perhaps in a car dealership or something.”