The story of Mountain Ridge football’s surprising turnaround season starts with senior linebacker Tommy Ellis.
In the midst of the Mountain Lion’s 5-3 start after an 0-10 2018 season, Ellis leads 6A and the entire state of Arizona in tackles. He said he hopes his impact on Mountain Ridge is deeper than the numbers, hearing that he was atop the leaderboard was nice, too.
“I’m not focused on that because I care more about team success. But, it is cool to see that the work is paying off in that way,” he said.
Ellis’s production on the field and work ethic off it – he boasts a 4.7 GPA according to his Twitter profile – making him a solid college football prospect. His coach would know.
“When I saw him (Ellis), he was the kind of kid I’d recruit,” said Doug Madoski, Mountain Ridge’s coach who also heads the Maricopa Mustangs junior college team and spent many years leading the Scottsdale Community College Artichokes.
“When you look at his skills, even though there’s still a lot to clean up and get better at, and his build (6-foot-2, 210 lbs.) from top to bottom, he looks like a college player.”
Ellis’s love of football developed at a young age. He played flag as a kid, always begging his mother to play tackle. He recalls her being a “concerned parent” about the contact in the sport. Now, as the team and state’s leading tackler, there’s quite a bit of hitting involved in his game.
His youth football career included being part of the First Ridge Army – a middle and elementary-school program the Mountain Lions began to create team chemistry and spirit before the kids enter high school.
The Ridge Army experience, he believes, has played a part in making him and the varsity Ridge team better.
“It’s great because instead of just the varsity, JV and freshman programs that you might have at most schools, it’s one big program, the Ridge brand goes from varsity all the way down to the youth. I think it’s made a big difference for us,” Ellis said.
And since his Ridge Army days, Ellis has been a leader for the group of now-seniors who have grown up together.
Madoski, who took over Mountain Ridge’s reigns in the spring, noticed that leadership in the team’s first practices. While many of the other seniors and captains were participating in other spring sports, he saw that Ellis was a player that others gravitated toward to answer questions and seek advice.
Now a captain and vocal leader, Ellis is described by his coach as “steady.”
“Who Tommy Ellis is in his regular life tells me how he’s going to be as a football player. And the way he conducts himself. And it’s nice to have the guy that you know exactly what you’re going to get out of him every day, and he shows that every night,” Madoski said.
The Mountain Lions have two games left in the regular season. Another win or two would likely put them in playoff contention, something that would have surprised most of the Arizona football community at the beginning of the year. Mountain Ridge’s success has already put some in awe.
Not Tommy, though.
“It shocked them, which I understand, because coming off an 0-10 season, you’re obviously not feeling too good,” Ellis said. “But we went into each game thinking we have a shot at it, and we’ve gotten to this point, so we want to see where it can take us.”