There is a lot about State College Area High School that is new these days. In fact, the entire building is.
It can make it hard to place things, hard to exactly remember where it was that a memorable moment happened years and years ago. Hard to put your finger on even what happened. The reference points are gone. The new rooms still sparkle, barely used. The building itself still smells fresh, like it was just unwrapped.
But the nice thing about history and tradition: it doesn’t ever really go away. You can’t erase what happened just by changing the building’s looks. It’s cliche, but the people make up that tradition, not the hallways that they walk.
So for incoming Penn State freshman corner Keaton Ellis, he is the latest in a growing State College tradition, one that has sent Little Lions up the street into the Lasch Building and for more than a few, time in the NFL.
Jordan Norwood, Nate Stupar, John Stupar, Larry Johnson and Tony Johnson. The list continues as you go back with the likes of Matt Suhey or Matt Rhule.
“Keaton is the most athletically gifted athlete that I’ve ever had the honor of coaching,” State High coach Matt Lintal said last week. “He doesn’t just have corner skills. He has the physicality of a safety with the skill-set of a corner and the height of a wide receiver.”
The good news for Penn State was that Ellis had committed — in his mind — to the Nittany Lions years ago. Growing up in State College, there was only one place he wanted to play. But, of course, everyone wants to suit up for their favorite program. Most everyone doesn’t.
So when that offer finally came, it was a pinch-yourself moment, one years in the making.
Having already committed prior to his senior season, Ellis’s stock only rocketed higher and higher as his outstanding final run played out on both sides of the ball. Rated the third best prospect in the state, Ellis proved his worth and then some, and that didn’t go unnoticed.
“Keaton had an unbelievable year,” James Franklin said earlier in the week. “Came to our camp, ran really well, ran high 4.3, low 4.4, but got a little sick and missed the camp circuit so didn’t get all the attention he probably deserved. Kept getting taller. Kept getting thicker and had an unbelievable senior year. It’s funny, like you’re saying, every time he comes to the building, the offensive coaches start talking to him and the defensive coaches get nervous, getting away from him.”
“That’s what we should have, guys that create position flexibility, which I think is huge. You hear me talk about it all the time on the offensive line but really I’m talking about our receivers should have the mentality and the physicality to play defense. Our defensive backs should have the ball skills to play wide receiver.”
The offensive coaches will have to watch Ellis in practice, though. He isn’t moving back to the offensive side of the ball any time soon.
“He’s a completely dominant player,” Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said on Wednesday. “You watch his film, to me, I think he’s got the best corner film in the country of all corners — and we watched them all.”
Sitting in a brand new room in a brand new building, Ellis looked forward to his brand new future. But he knows who came before him, and sometimes those things are just as important.
“It’s really cool to be a part of that list, those are all guys I look up to,” Ellis said of State College’s own football history. “It’s just really cool to know that you’re a part of history and you take that to heart to prove yourself and be the best player you can be for the players that came before you.”
Ellis reports to Penn State on Jan. 5, and that quest will officially begin.