IU freshman running back shines in first feature opportunity Saturday

Taylor Lehman, Staff
The Hoosier

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Jordan Wells, TheHoosier.com

There was a time in freshman running back Morgan Ellison’s short football career when concern for his health threatened his football future.

The running back out of Pickerington Central High School in Ohio broke one leg in his sophomore year of high school. Then he broke the other leg in his junior year.

“’He’s always hurt. He has an attitude when he gets hurt,’” Ellison said some coaches and scouts would comment about his recruitability.

Ellison received offers from schools in the Mid-American Conference, but none more prestigious than Ohio and Bowling Green. Then IU whiffed on a linebacker they’d wanted in the 2017 class and tossed an offer to Ellison for his ability to play on both sides of the ball.

Saturday, though, Ellison and his injury-ridden body carried the ball scored two touchdowns and recorded 186 yards — the fourth-most by an IU freshman and 21 yards shy of Anthony Thompson’s freshman record.

“I didn’t count yards. I didn’t count how many carries,” Ellison said. “I just knew what the score was, and we just had to keep scoring.”

That’s exactly what the new IU running back did.

Once tabbed “Jordan Howard 2.0” by former running backs coach Deland McCullough, Ellison pushed his way across the goalline on his seventh carry of IU’s first scoring drive of the game against Georgia Southern. It was his first career touchdown on his 26th carry as a Hoosier.

IU running backs coach Mike Hart still had something to say to his budding star after the milestone though.

Ellison had reached for the goalline with the hand he held the ball with, exposing his ball security for a potential turnover.

“In practice he says, ‘Reach the ball out to get it. Reach the ball out,’” Ellison said. “But in the game, I guess, since I did it with one hand, he was kind of upset that I did it with one hand, but I felt I had a good grip on the ball. After I heard him, came back, and then I fumbled on the 1-yard line, he was like, ‘I just told you, I just told you.’ I gottta hold the ball better.”

That was the only negative remark made about Ellison by any coach or player. Allen said as well that the running back needs to hold onto the ball better, after he fumbled at the goalline and had the ball recovered by junior wide receiver Simmie Cobbs for a touchdown.

“Simmie came back and gave me a high-five like, ‘Thanks bro,’” Ellison said, laughing.

With his recruiting process playing out quieter than the Ohio-native had intended, Ellison said he felt he had to prove what he could do when he got to Bloomington, prove that his legs weren’t shot, prove that he had worth at the collegiate level.

The former rugby player made a quick name for himself by running harder than other backs in fall camp without pads.

“(IU senior safety Chase) Dutra and all them got upset a little bit, like, ‘Hey, you can’t be running like that. You know what happens to the last running back that did that. You can’t be doing that. You’ll hurt yourself. Blah, blah, blah,’” Ellison said.

That’s how the freshman runs though, with quickness and power. Like Jordan Howard.

The Hoosiers gave him the ball 25 times Saturday night after junior running back Mike Majette — who has been the IU starting running back all year and was labeled the “most complete back” on the roster by Allen — ruled inactive with a minor injury.

Ellison broke off six runs of 10 yards or more. That was six of IU’s 10 plays of 10-plus yards Saturday.

“After I got a couple, it was like, alright let’s keep going, let’s keep going,” Ellison said. “Mike wasn’t playing in this game, so it was like somebody has to step up and play this game so let’s just do it. I felt like it was the time honestly.”

With the high volume of carries, Ellison took some hits. The freshman was on the ground injured twice against Georgia Southern, but after a short spell from freshman running back Cole Gest, Ellison returned.

He said he just took hits to his body that he wasn’t used to taking, as he continues to make the transition from high school to college.

“I gotta get used to it,” Ellison said. “They hit hard. Georgia guys hit hard.”

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