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Ellick works his way into starting lineup

Matt Lozar | Friday, October 17, 2003

Dwight Ellick has something you can’t teach – and he’s not afraid to tell anyone about it.

“I don’t think anybody in the country’s faster than me,” the Irish cornerback said. “I feel I’m the fastest man in the country.”

As a senior at Wharton High School in Tampa, Fla., Ellick won the Class 4A state title in the 100 and 200-meter dash. Ellick’s speed has helped him as member of the Notre Dame special teams units in all three of his years with the Irish.

This year, Ellick started in a reserve role for the Irish, but worked his way into starting lineup last weekend at Pittsburgh. While the coaching staff always knew about his speed, Ellick needed to show more than that in practice to become a starter.

“I think the biggest thing was consistency. He was able to play the coverage and not have mental blows and just be consistent in what we were asking him to do,” Notre Dame secondary coach Trent Walters said. “You can always use speed, but you have to use speed that is under control. He has been able to control his speed and play with consistency.”

Ellick came to Notre Dame in 2001 with hopes of jumping right into the starting lineup, but that changed pretty quickly. Former All-American Shane Walton and current teammates Jason Beckstrom and Vontez Duff taught him a lot about what it takes to be a collegiate cornerback on the field. Coming from a high school that had two simple zone coverage packages and a man-to-man defense, the playbook at Notre Dame was a lot thicker than Ellick usually saw.

But Walton kept telling Ellick to stay dedicated to the game and continue to learn the playbook, because Ellick’s speed would take care of the rest.

“My freshman year I was just trying to learn the playbook as much as the other guys. [Walton, Duff and Beckstrom] helped me a lot and taught me some tricks of the trade to help me as I go,” Ellick said. “When Shane left, he told me, to go out there and work hard. If you do everything you got to do, with my speed and everything I got going for me, eventually I’m going to start. I kept that in mind.”

The hard work in practice finally paid off for Ellick with his first start last week, which saw the Irish secondary contain All-American candidate Larry Fitzgerald and shut down the Pittsburgh passing attack in the second half.

The best passing offense the Irish have seen this year invades South Bend Saturday. Ellick and the other cornerbacks know it and are ready for the challenge Trojans receiver Mike Williams and company bring to the table.

“They are pretty good. Mike Williams isn’t the fastest guy in the world. But he is big, strong and physical. Keary Colbert is a little blazer,” Ellick said. “We can go out there and match up with them. If they want to get physical, we’ll be physical. If they want to jump and fight it out, we’ll fight it out. Whatever they want to do, we’ll match it.

“Whatever they bring to the table, we’ll bring that and then some.”