Ellerbe suited up for the last time as a collegian on Jan. 17 as a member of the East team in the 84th East-West Shrine Game in Houston.
The game was a chance for a number of seniors to showcase their talent in front of NFL scouts. Ellerbe finished the contest with seven tackles, one for a three-yard loss.
“It was a good opportunity to prove myself to them (the scouts) that still had questions about my knee,” Ellerbe said. “It’s close to being 100 percent. That was the first time since I came back from injury that I didn’t even need the knee brace.”
Ellerbe suffered the injury during the Bulldogs’ 41-30 loss to Southeastern Conference rival Alabama in the fourth game of the season. He believes the injury was a result of a dirty play by one of the Crimson Tide offensive lineman. Ellerbe said the Alabama player hit him with a cut block, while he was attempting to tackle the ball carrier.
After being a pre-season All-SEC selection and on the Bronco Nagurski Award watch list, Ellerbe was forced to the sidelines for four games with a severe sprained medial collateral ligament.
“It was tough not being out there, but mentally, I had to keep my mind right,” Ellerbe said. “I was thinking about whether my (NFL) stock was going down, but I knew the bigger picture was the team. I was cheerleading and coaching my teammates up at the same time. I wanted to keep their spirits up, so we could still have the best season possible.”
The injury wasn’t the first time Ellerbe had to overcome adversity while attending Georgia. Three years ago, Ellerbe was arrested for a DUI after he crashed a teammate’s car into a tree on campus.
Ellerbe was placed on six-months probation by the UGA Student Judiciary Board and was sent home by the Georgia coaching staff. In addition, Ellerbe was forced to serve a three-game suspension.
Since his arrest, the Bulldog coaching staff has been impressed with Ellerbe’s attitude and leadership role.
Ellerbe’s linebacker coach, John Jancek, acknowledged the situation helped Ellerbe become more mature, and realize he had to get his priorities in order, as well as, develop into a player others admired.
“It was certainly a learning experience, and it helped slow me down when I was starting to get a little wild,” Ellerbe said. “The Lord was letting me know that there were bigger and better things for me in the future. What happened that night was all about growing up. I know now that I have to stay focused, stay out of trouble, stay positive and do things the right way.”
The former Richmond Raider did plenty of things well as a junior. Ellerbe started 11 of Georgia’s 13 games and recorded a team-high 93 tackles, as well as, 4 1/2 sacks and an interception.
Ellerbe was honored for his breakout season by being the lone Bulldog named to the All-SEC second-team by the league’s coaches.
“I was really motivated and wanted to prove to people that I could make an impact on this defense,” the Hamlet native said. “I finally got a chance to start, and the Lord allowed me to showcase my talent. My goal has always been to make it to the NFL, and I wanted to put myself in the best position to get there.”
According to the NFL Draft Bible, a printed publication and website about the NFL draft, Ellerbe is now projected to be a second-day selection, rather than a second-or-third-round pick because he wasn’t the active playmaker on the Bulldogs this year.
Ellerbe still has hopes of being taken as high as the second round, and candidly said, “I’m more athletic, faster and quicker than all the top linebackers coming out.”
The scouting report says Ellerbe, who has 148 tackles, 21 for loss and 28 quarterback pressures during his time as a Bulldog, has the ability to play multiple spots in the pros.
The 6-foot-1, 232 pound Ellerbe played outside linebacker against the national champions, Florida, when he returned from injury. He finished with Georgia’s only sack and two quarterback pressures. Ellerbe said he played that position at the East-West game.
“He obviously has great speed, and great explosion,” Jancek said. “He has the ability to change directions very quickly. His greatest asset is that he is a smart player. He approaches the game the right way. I think whatever pro team selects him is getting a fine player that can play for a long time. He has a lot of versatility, which is huge because teams are looking for players that can do different things on the field.”
Whether Ellerbe is drafted or not, he still has something to fall back on. He graduated with a degree in housing back on Dec. 19. Ellerbe said he was the first on his mother’s (Valerie Covington) side of the family to graduate from college.
“It was a great experience, and I didn’t realize how much effect it had on other people in my family,” Ellerbe said. “My little cousin told me how much he looks up to me and that was touching to hear. I’m understanding that the Lord has put me in a position to be a role model.”
Ellerbe said he was grateful to play at one of the most premiere college football programs in arguably the best football conference in the nation. The one highlight Ellerbe said stood out the most was helping Georgia earn a Bowl Championship Series bid to play in the 2008 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
The Bulldogs cruised past Hawaii 41-10, forcing six interceptions, including one by Ellerbe in the fourth quarter.
Ellerbe closed out his Georgia career by helping the Bulldogs to a 24-12 victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl this year. He recorded four tackles and one sack in the New Year’s Day contest.
Despite Georgia’s inability to live up to its pre-season expectation after being pick No. 1 in both the coaches and AP polls, Ellerbe does relish the opportunity of gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was pictured beside running back Knowshon Moreno and quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“It was unexplainable, and being on the cover of a magazine was something I was always hoping to be on,” Ellerbe said. “Wow, man, to be from a small hometown and have that happen was incredible. I don’t think anybody back home has ever done something like that.”
Ellerbe is trying to become the latest Richmond County player to be drafted into the NFL. The area has sent eight players into the NFL. Michael Waddell, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans in 2004, was the last.
After spending last week back home recuperating from the grind of football and school, Ellerbe will travel to Pensacola, Fla. on Monday to begin training for the NFL scouting combines that are scheduled to take place from Feb. 18 to 24 in Indianapolis.
“Before I got to Georgia, there were people that didn’t think I was big enough to play linebacker, but I went out to proved them wrong,” Ellerbe said. “When the chance come to showcase my talent to those scouts, my goal is to prove to them, I can play on Sundays.”
Contact sports reporter Corey Davis at 997-3111, ext. 44; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org