USA TODAY Sports
After enduring breaking both of his legs during his Ohio high school football career, Morgan Ellison's recruitment had come to a standstill.
The IU freshman running back held offers almost exclusively from Mid-American Conference (MAC) schools, as schools like Ohio State and Wisconsin had shown interest but were reluctant to offer in the midst of two lost seasons due to injury.
Indiana initially did, too, but eventually pulled the trigger during his senior season and securing his commitment in January. After last week's performance against Georgia Southern, the Hoosiers see a promising back who is eager to continue to prove the doubters wrong.
"(He) is playing the way I -- after fall camp, the way he convinced me he could play," IU head coach Tom Allen said. "He's proven that he's a young man that has a bright future if he stays hungry and humble and keeps working hard."
Ellison rushed 25 times for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns in IU's 52-17 win over Georgia Southern last Saturday, getting the opportunity to start with regular starter and junior running back Mike Majette sidelined with a hamstring injury. As a result, he earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors from the conference.
That he had the opportunity to fall just 21 yards shy of tying former IU All-American Anthony Thompson's single-game freshman rushing record almost didn't happen.
The Hoosiers were hesitant to offer, and only did so when a linebacker target committed elsewhere. It was the last scholarship spot in the 2017 signing class, according to Allen, and the staff used it on Ellison after he committed on Jan. 20.
"It was just a blessing that I ended up here at the end of the day," Ellison said. "If I didn't, I would've gone to the MAC and still had school paid for, it would've been a great opportunity. But this was the right decision."
Ellison also had to overcome a last-minute coaching change when his primary recruiter at IU, running backs coach Deland McCullough, left to take the same position at the University of Southern California after signing day.
However, IU safeties coach Noah Joseph quickly moved in to maintain the connection, and before long the Hoosiers hired former Michigan standout Mike Hart as their new running backs coach.
"I grew up in Ohio. I hated Michigan,” Ellison said. "I went back when I found out he’s my coach and I started watching the film like, 'Oh, this guy’s the truth right here.'"
In high school, Ellison also played rugby. Ironically, he said he got hurt more in football than he did in rugby.
Nonetheless, the physicality developed from playing rugby showed early in fall camp with teammates expressing concern about Ellison running too hard during IU's first few practices without pads.
"He has a tempo about him where he’s gonna play hard," IU associate head coach and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. "He’s gonna continue to fight for YAC — yards after contact. That’s just kind of his mindset, which is really good."
Hart said Ellison won't always get 25 carries every game, the workload being a product of the flow of last Saturday's game against Georgia Southern.
However, Hart also said Ellison has shown a consistent work ethic each day.
"He's still got to get better, there's no question about that," Hart said. "But he's still doing a really good job."
Heading into Saturday's game against No. 4 Penn State, the challenge of rushing for at least 100 yards will undoubtedly be tougher.
But with conference play resuming, Allen's challenge for Ellison to take the next step is simple.
"Run like that against a Big Ten opponent," Allen said.
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