Penn State freshman Keaton Ellis enrolled on campus less than three weeks ago. The local State College High School graduate went under-the-radar throughout much of his college football recruitment but freshly released Top247 rankings reveal a prospect whose perceived potential escalated considerably during recent months.
Ellis, a 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback, landed at No. 126 in 247Sports’ final assessment of the 2019 class’ most elite talent. He entered his senior season listed 495th.
“Keaton is one of those guys who, early in the process, you learn to trust your process,” Nittany Lions cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said in December. “We offered him basically before anyone else in the country offered him, and we were right.”
Ellis, the son of former Penn State receiver Bruce Ellis, attended high school less than two miles away from Beaver Stadium and earned that scholarship offer in June 2017 after completing the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at a PSU camp.
It was a monumental moment for Ellis, who became Penn State’s initial 2019 verbal pledge less than three months later.
“That meant a lot,” he said of the early offer. “I think they liked my character and that I was a player they wanted to be on the team as a leader. I took that to heart. To take a shot on me like that — maybe I wasn’t as big as some of the other guys — and trust (in) me, I took that and worked really hard because of that and got to where I am now.”
Soon after announcing his commitment, Ellis missed much of his junior season due to a thumb injury that required surgery.
“So (he) didn’t get all the attention he probably deserved,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said after signing him. “Kept getting taller, kept getting thicker and had an unbelievable senior year.”
Ellis bounced back in a big way. He earned Defensive Back MVP honors on The Opening’s regional camp circuit, then set the tone for a State College squad with championship aspirations.
“Keaton came into his senior year with a different level of confidence; that was the big thing,” Little Lions football coach Matt Lintal told Lions247. “He wanted to prove to everyone what he’s capable of, and he certainly did that from a leadership standpoint and production standpoint.”
Ellis flashed dominance in all three phases of the game. He collected 50 receptions for 888 yards and 15 touchdowns, totaled 51 tackles, nine pass breakups, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries on defense, provided excellent special teams coverage, and returned a kickoff for touchdown in front of Franklin in September (video atop article)
The season turned into a series of statements delivered by Ellis, who avoided any insecurities about recruiting rankings as kickoff approached.
“I kind of put that stuff aside,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not important. You see a bunch of five-star and four-star guys going to college and not being anything. You just kind of focus on yourself and do what you can do and control what you can control.”
His senior campaign included 1,376 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns.
“It’s everything I’ve seen him do since eighth grade,” said State College teammate Cohen Russell, who will play college football at Slippery Rock University. “No one can touch him. He’s the fastest kid out here, he’s got hands, he can jump, he can tackle, he can do it all. There’s a reason he’s a four-star athlete.”
During the last week of September, a 247Sports rankings update elevated Ellis from a fringe top-500 prospect to a top-150 talent.
“He’s doing it all early in his senior season and the local Penn State commit looks like an absolute steal,” observed 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons upon that change. “The length and ball skills really jump out for Ellis and he also has top-end testing numbers. He’s jumped up from a high three-star to a Top247 prospect.”
The Penn State staff noticed his rankings rise but wasn’t surprised.
“Obviously, lately he’s kind of jumped on some rankings,” Smith said. “I think Keaton is as good a corner as there is in the country. When you watch his film, there’s not better film (of a corner) in the country.”
Despite this accolade, Ellis didn’t accrue collegiate interest in large supply. Buffalo and Syracuse extended offers in Spring 2017 but his third — from Penn State — essentially wrapped things up.
“I think it was one of those scenarios that was really set up,” Lintal said. “Once he became that first Penn State commit, it was a done deal. People knew he’s from State College, he’s locked in there, he’s helping recruit for Penn State, and his dad played there. It became very obvious to other college programs that he was 100-percent committed.”
These dynamics helped set the stage for a successful and drama-free Nittany Lions recruitment. It also may have led some to take Ellis’ presence in the class for granted.
“If you put this kid in Florida or North Jersey or California, he’s gonna have 30-plus offers and he’s gonna be making official visits all over the place,” said 247Sports national recruiting analyst Brian Dohn. “Penn State fans would be like ‘If we can get this kid, that would be amazing’. But he’s in their backyard. … I think he’s unbelievably talented and when you look at his ranking it’s reflective of what we think of him.”
“There’s an opportunity for him to make an immediate impact,” Smith said.
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