UT’s Elliott making strides on, off the fieldWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
During the past six weeks, junior defensive end Jayrone Elliott has established himself as the go-to guy when the Rockets are in need of a crucial defensive play.
The University of Toledo’s emergent sack specialist, with a team-leading 5.5, will be the first to admit his rise to prominence on the field has run parallel with his development off it.
“Coming out of high school I had to grow up a lot,” Elliott said. “I was immature. One thing me and coach [Matt] Campbell talked about from day one was me growing up and being accountable for my actions.”
The Cleveland native said his focus wavered at Glenville High School, where he initially opted to hang out with friends and pursue girls rather than academic success. The former three-star recruit’s misaligned priorities caused numerous BCS football programs to shy away from him.
Celebrated football coach and mentor Ted Ginn stepped in amid Elliott’s high school struggles, urging him to join the Ginn Academy, an institution that prepares urban males for life.
“He’s a great guy and a great role model,” Elliott said of Ginn. “He’s changed the whole community and changed so many kids’ lives, giving them an opportunity to go to college and stay out of the bad neighborhoods.”
During an Oct. 29 news conference, UT head coach Matt Campbell demonstrated the impact the Ginn Academy had on Elliott by telling a story about when he recruited the defensive end and asked him about his life goals.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’d like to come back to Cleveland and be what Ted Ginn is to so many people,’” Campbell said. “I knew at that point we were getting a really special young man.”
Campbell’s assessment began manifesting itself on the field Sept. 22 when Elliott posted a pair of sacks in the fourth quarter of a surprisingly tight game against Coastal Carolina.
He followed up his late-game performance against the Chanticleers with sacks in the second half of the next three games.
During the past two weeks Elliott came up with perhaps his most determinative plays yet.
Following a failed on-side kick attempt by the Rockets late in the third quarter against Cincinnati, Elliott combined with Trent Voss for a third-down sack near midfield, thwarting the Bearcats’ attempt to take the lead.
Then on Oct. 27 in Buffalo, the high-motored defensive end sacked and stripped quarterback Joe Licata with fewer than two minutes to go. Colby Kratch pounced on the ball to seal Toledo’s eighth consecutive win.
“I think you’re beginning to see the fruit of a lot of hard work that got [Elliott] to this point,” Campbell said.
Currently Elliott is making strides to become a more complete defensive end as thus far he has been used almost exclusively in passing situations.
“Once I can show that I can stop the run I can be one of the best defensive ends in this conference,” Elliott said. “That just comes along with me being accountable and knowing my job.”
Toledo’s veteran defensive ends receive high praise from Elliott, who said T.J. Fatinikun, Ben Pike and Hank Keighley are among those who deserve credit for his ongoing development.
“It’s been easy to teach Jayrone the tricks of the trade,” Keighley said without hesitation. “He’s a very skilled athlete who just needed some minor tweaks.”
With his senior year just around the corner, it will soon be Elliott’s job to bring along the less experienced players. It is a role he understands will require continued growth — on and off the field.
“I’ve matured some but I still have more maturing to do,” Elliott said. “When the spring comes I’m going to be a senior and I’ve got to lead young guys like Allen Covington, Chris Collins and Orion Jones and show them what’s been taught to me.”