Earnest's confusion was cleared after logging onto social media one day to find a video of Ellis — ever dedicated to his craft — running hills on his own time.
"We kind of had to tell him, 'Hey Malik, love the intensity, love the work ethic, but we've got to dial that back," Earnest said.
The correction made, Ellis is up to 250 pounds, retaining the elite athleticism that makes him special. Ellis is No. 11 in The Clarion Ledger's Dandy Dozen, a collection of the top college football prospects for the Class of 2023.
Ellis is a three-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite, and a Mississippi State commit — a pledge he said he made in part due to Mike Leach's pass-heavy offense. He is the No. 12 prospect in the state and No. 58 offensive tackle in the country.
"My pass protection is my A-game," he said. "That's the best thing I can do."
Despite the constant snacking and sizable meals that came with his effort to bulk up, it was important for Ellis to maintain his athletic gifts.
He doesn't want to be a slow, hulking offensive tackle. That's not his game.
"I try to stay flexible, stay fit. The defensive ends get smaller by the day," he said with a laugh. "They get smaller and quicker so I try to stay on top of that and train for it."
As he speaks, a humility emanates from Ellis that seems natural.
A favorite anecdote of Earnest's involves his 92-year-old great aunt, who also happens to be Ellis' next-door neighbor. Ellis has been checking in on her for years, taking out her trash and ensuring she had everything she needed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Every time I go by to see her, she says 'Malik came by today,'" Earnest said. "He's been doing that since I've known him. That's always hit home with me."
Since a young age, fans and experts have been drawing comparisons between Ellis and Laurel alumnus Charles Cross, a left tackle selected ninth overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Just as Cross was leaving Laurel for Mississippi State, Ellis was coming onto the scene at the same position.
While there were times he feels he let his ego get the best of him in the past, Ellis is now determined not to fall victim to the pressure or the vanity those comparisons can create.
"He's a great role model, I'm glad to follow into those footsteps, but at the same time I'm really trying to make a name for myself," Ellis said.
He'll get that chance with the Golden Tornadoes for his senior season and with Mississippi State thereafter.
Earnest is certain Ellis' best football is yet to come.
"Once he gets to the next level they’re going to have a lot more to offer, not just from a strength and conditioning standpoint, but from a nutritional standpoint," Earnst said. "And so I think once those types of things come into play and you couple that with his freakish athleticism, his work ethic, and his attention to detail, I’m really, really excited to see what the future holds for him."
Reach Southern Miss writer David Eckert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @davideckert98.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi State football commit Malik Ellis remains athletic OT