Freshmen with the “green” light for Saturday’s opener
State College’s Keaton Ellis hasn’t stopped impressing his Penn State teammates since stepping foot on campus in January — and the cornerback was finally rewarded for that Tuesday.
Coach James Franklin announced that Ellis was one of seven true freshmen to earn a “green light,” meaning the early enrollee is in line for immediate playing time and will likely avoid a redshirt. Ellis was the first name mentioned by Franklin, and he’s the only true freshman DB to earn the designation.
“He’s long, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s athletic, he’s put on some good size,” Franklin said. “He looks like he’s got a Big Ten body now.
“I just think he’s going to have a really good year for us — and going to have a great career because he’s just got so many characteristics you’re looking for.”
Ellis, a four-star prospect who played high school football for the local Little Lions, was listed on the depth chart as the backup to fifth-year senior John Reid. But it’s possible Ellis slides into an immediate role in the nickel package.
Currently, Reid is listed both as the starting cornerback and the starting nickelback. Something obviously has to give at nickel — and that might be where Ellis comes in. “Keaton is a guy we would like to grow into that role,” Franklin said.
Ellis’ rise at Penn State has been far from a surprise. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound townie has impressed at literally every turn. In December, cornerbacks coach Terry Smith told reporters, “He’s got the best corner film in the country.” During the spring, Franklin referred to him as one of two newcomers who was generating “buzz and excitement.” At the start of camp, safety Garrett Taylor called him a “ball-hawk” in addition to being “explosive and fast.”
And, after camp, the compliments continued to roll in. The State High grad has already impressed his teammates in the cornerback room.
“He’s really stuck out with that, with picking up the plays,” Reid, a team captain, said Tuesday afternoon. “He understands his job on every play. He understands where he’s supposed to be at in the defense, which I think is very important, and he’s kind of shown that since spring ball.”
Said junior CB Tariq Castro-Fields: “He’s a really hungry guy; he kind of reminds me of myself a little bit. He asks a lot of questions, and I was a guy who asked a lot of questions to Christian (Campbell) and guys like that.”
In the spring, Ellis was one of the defense’s three “takeaway kings.” And, during camp this month, Reid said he believed Ellis again forced the most turnovers on the defense.
Part of that likely rests with the fact Ellis was a two-way playmaker for State High. Not only was he among Pennsylvania’s most feared defensive backs but, last season, he also had 50 receptions for 888 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Ellis brings that same receiver mentality to the defense when the ball is in the air, and teammates say that athleticism and his uniquely fast ability to understand the playbook helped catapult him to this point.
A “green light” might change from week to week, Franklin said, but Ellis is now poised to play Week 1 against Idaho. And if he continues on this trajectory, Ellis’ cheering section might quickly outgrow Centre County.
“He’s pretty confident,” Reid said. “He came in here competing really early, so I think he’s going to do really well.”
Players who earned a ‘green light’
- CB Keaton Ellis
- DE Adisa Isaac
- LB Lance Dixon
- LB Brandon Smith
- OL Caedan Wallace
- RB Noah Cain
- RB Devyn Ford
- S Jaquan Brisker (JUCO)
- K Jordan Stout (transfer)
- WR Weston Carr (transfer)