By Tony Burns
After last season, one thing was obvious about El Dorado's offense. While the Wildcats were big and strong up front with solid skill-position players and an emerging star at quarterback, they were missing something - an extra gear.
When Taliq Ellis arrived on campus last December, the offense immediately switched into overdrive.
Ellis, a 5-11, 170-pound receiver/cornerback, moved to El Dorado from Lincoln, Nebraska. He brought with him 4.48 speed and ball skills. Ellis played primarily cornerback at Lincoln High but, at El Dorado, has provided a big-play threat on offense at the receiver position.
“We saw he had ball skills,” said El Dorado coach Scott Reed. “Honestly, we didn’t realize he had as good of hands as he showed last spring. I knew from watching the highlight tape of his junior year that he was physical and he was athletic. He could turn his hips and cover. They tried to play him a little bit on offense. They tried to run him on reverses and all that. But, by the time spring ball had got here, he had been in off-season. I think he got stronger even and he got more and more confident. He’s a good route runner. He understands when and how to separate. He’s coachable. By the time spring ball got here, we knew we had something pretty good there.”
Ellis is second on the team with 27 receptions for 564 yards and six touchdowns this season. He has averaged 20.9 yards per catch, which includes a variety of screens and hitches. That's not bad at all for a senior making a position change.
When asked his position on the field, Ellis laughed, “Right now, it’s looking like a wide receiver. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just going to do it one hundred percent and try to be the best at it.
“They talked to me about it before the season started and told me I might be needed on offense a little bit more. I told them I was fine with that. As the year kept on going, I played more offense and they put me on defense whenever they needed me or in a hard situation.”
The transition from defense to offense took some time, even for an intelligent youngster like Ellis, who hopes to be a chemical engineer. He said learning all of the offensive plays was the most challenging.
"Coach Reed runs a complicated offense," he said.
The football field wasn't the only adjustment for Ellis, who moved to El Dorado with his mother and younger brother and sister. He compared the Union County town to Lincoln.
“It’s similar as in people but in size-wise, it’s a huge difference," said Ellis. "We had eight high schools and six of them were 6A in one city. What I like about a small town is everybody knows about the high school and the football team. In Lincoln, people come watch football but it’s so many schools, it’s separated. Football is not as big as it is in Arkansas and Texas and the southern states.”
Through football, Ellis began meeting other students and teammates and started the process of making friends.
“I came down here during Christmas Break. My mom set up a meeting with the coaches so I could see the school and things. I think it was a better choice for my career and getting more exposure, said Ellis. "Coach Reed was the nicest person I’ve ever met. He let me come in with open arms, always makes sure I’ve got what I need. He’s been like another father for me."
An emotional player. Ellis can draw energy from a boisterous crowd. He said, in that way, El Dorado's Memorial Stadium doesn't really compare to Lincoln High.
“The crowd here is way different - bigger and better. We didn’t really have a football city. This is a football city. I’ve never experienced anything like it before, especially at the high school level," he said. “I’m more than glad I made the decision to come here and play for the El Dorado Wildcats.”
On the field, Ellis' speed has been a game-changer this season. He has teamed with Keshun Greene and Shun Levingston to form the most potent receiving trio in the conference. All three have at least one reception of 60 yards or more. All three are also physical, open-field blockers, which makes El Dorado's quick hitch pass one of the most dangerous offensive plays in the state.
“That’s a big key. We want each other to make big plays. We block for each other on the perimeter," said Ellis. "We’ve got our chemistry. We know where we’re going to be at all times. We know who is going to be open. Our chemistry has gotten so great. I do think we’re the best trio in the state.
And, senior Darius Holly has done his part at quarterback. Even in preseason, Ellis and his quarterback had already developed a rapport.
“I met Darius my first day when I went to the high school. He was lifting," he said. "Coach had me talk to him for a little bit alone. He told me I fit the receiver’s spot they needed. We went to the stadium and worked out a lot. I feel like he’s grown to trust me and I’ve grown to trust him. He knows where I’m going to be and I think he trusts me a hundred percent that I’m going to get the ball in my hands and I’m going to make a play with it.”
As serious as Ellis is about football, his academics are just as important, if not more. Right now, he wants to be a chemical engineer more than he wants to play college football.
"I’m almost 85 percent sure I want to play college football," he said. "The only way I don’t is if it’s not going to benefit me education-wise."
Ellis received interest as a cornerback before the season. He said the recruiters are looking at him, now, as an athlete. The Wildcats planned to use him on both sides of the football, especially when the weather turned cooler. Ellis has not had a lot of opportunities to play defense this season.
“I would love to play more cornerback," he said. "When it’s hot, it does wear on me a lot. If the team needs me on offense and doesn’t really need me on defense, I’m all about what the team needs as far as to win. Whenever the coach tells me to get out there, I’ll definitely get out there.”