Better tighten that chinstrap, Juan Garcia. Casey Bulyca and Ryan Tolar, you might want to tie down those shoulder pads extra tight. You're about to spend...
LOS ANGELES — Better tighten that chinstrap, Juan Garcia. Casey Bulyca and Ryan Tolar, you might want to tie down those shoulder pads extra tight.
You’re about to spend three hours Saturday night with a 305-pound medicine ball in cardinal and gold named Sedrick Ellis. Whatever you’re getting in that monthly scholarship check, it’s not enough.
Sedrick Ellis? The name doesn’t carry the familiarity of USC players like John David Booty, or linebackers like Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga, but there are knowledgeable people around USC football that swear Ellis is the best player on the roster.
Not that recognition will be a problem, but the University of Washington center and guards will be able to pick him out by the tattoo on his leg: “Beast.” It’s a pretty apt description for how the 6-foot-2 Ellis goes about his work.
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“Great job, sweetheart!” exclaimed USC athletic director and ex-Heisman winner Mike Garrett, addressing the USC nose tackle the other night after the Trojans’ 47-14 victory over Washington State. “So much penetration, it was unbelievable.”
“Thank you,” Ellis said appreciatively. “I’m going to have to mention it to the coach.”
Maybe if the Huskies mime Garrett’s approach, calling Ellis sweetheart, he’ll be in a more jocular mood at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Trojans’ defense has been labeled one for the ages. Truth be told, it hasn’t fully looked the part, but don’t blame Ellis.
It all starts with him. He routinely demands a double-team from the center and guard. Try to block him one-on-one, and you’re either as cocky as Terrell Owens or not spending enough time watching video.
The math is easy; if Ellis is occupying two of your linemen — and sometimes besting them — there are a lot of seething Trojans like Rivers and Maualuga running free to chase Jake Locker.
“Yeah, it gets frustrating at times, that the [other] guys get single blocks,” Ellis said. “But as a nose tackle, that’s your job description. We can’t really complain. You’ve got to bite down your mouthpiece and try to get as much pressure up the middle as possible.”
In the dominating victory at Nebraska, he had five tackles — one a sack — and a couple of passes deflected at a position where stats don’t make the man.
For offenses eyeballing video, it’s déjà vu. A few years ago on USC national-title teams, Mike Patterson was the stumpy disrupter in the middle of the defense. Ellis learned under Patterson, who is now starting for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“A couple of years ago, I thought nobody could replace Mike,” said Pete Carroll, the USC coach. “Sedrick is playing every bit as good as Mike did. From what I’m hearing from the NFL, he’s one of the best prospects in the country at his position.”
“Best D-lineman I’ve ever seen,” said Trojans offensive tackle Sam Baker, himself a prospective first-round draft choice, talking about Ellis. “I wouldn’t know how to prepare for him.”
Ellis came out of Chino, just east of Los Angeles. His three recruiting visits were a glimpse into college football royalty, both then and now.
He took trips to USC, LSU and Oklahoma the year before the Tigers and Sooners played in the 2004 BCS title game while USC, as No. 1 in The Associated Press vote, won a piece of the national championship. And those three are squarely in the hunt for another trophy in 2007.
“That was kind of a big, confused time for me,” Ellis said, “but I definitely made the right choice. SC is a great place to be, right here in the city, and I love playing for coach Carroll. He’s awesome.”
Ellis’ prepossessing trait is his strength. He has pushed up a team-best 510 in the bench press, and on USC’s pro day last spring, hoisted 225 a ridiculous 42 times.
There was a brief period last January when USC’s defensive rock — a 2007 preseason first-team All-American — weighed an early leap to the NFL. Then he felt the collegiate tug of a friendship with linemate Lawrence Jackson and decided the league could wait.
“We were roommates together freshman and sophomore year,” Ellis said. “We’re such good friends outside of football. He came to me and said, ‘If you stay, I’ll stay,’ and vice versa.
“We just wanted to be together our last season and have fun.”
For Ellis, fun is jamming offenses near their control booth. It’s guys like him who allow the USC defense to be free of gimmickry, the philosophy being that superior athletes don’t need to be taking a lot of risks.
“He changes the whole offense,” says Trojans safety Taylor Mays. “He beats people, he intimidates.”
Here’s the best way to soften up Ellis: Ask him about a Rottweiler named Junior, whom he acquired to replace one of the same breed who died not long ago.
“That was my friend, my buddy,” said Ellis. “I had to get another one. I never would have thought I’d get that attached to a dog.”
Junior, of course, stays behind on football trips. And Ellis goes off to do his thing, one sweetheart of a nose tackle.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org