Kordell Ellis didn’t need to look. He knew it was bad.
The Milwaukee Marshall senior was playing in a 7-on-7 league in April when he jumped to make a play on the ball. He got the deflection, but when he landed he felt a snap.
His intuition told him what his eyes soon confirmed. His right knee was wrecked.
“It looked like it was snapped in half,” Ellis said. “I was going to be out for a while. I knew it was bad.”
Ellis’ senior year was over before it started.
The setback left one of the City Conference’s top players sidelined during a most important time. He couldn’t attend camps to enhance his recruitment, and he wouldn’t have a chance to get out more video for college coaches to evaluate. He pretty much fell off the radar.
Being off the radar is an issue City Conference players deal with. The struggle the league’s teams have to compete with in other conferences can make it easy to dismiss their players. And if you’re trying to put together a good highlight tape, the lopsided nature of many conference games can make it difficult to evaluate what is being shown.
There are gems like a healthy Ellis, though. The trick is getting them exposure.
“We’re asking these programs as they go out to the Arrowheads and Mukwonagos to stop by and take a look at what we’ve got in the City because there are definitely some kids who can play,” Marshall coach Stevie Calvin said.
“They just lack a lot of the facilities as far as the weight rooms and things like that, but they’re great athletes and there are some good kids in the conference who deserve that opportunity.”
There are players like Ellis, who is going to need time to get healthy before he can attempt to resume his athletic career. Or Bay View quarterback Isiah Wright, a Division I prospect who will probably play a different position in college. Or King junior linebacker Rashad Shabazz, who has size and great instincts. Or someone like Riverside junior Chris Sykes, who is big and has good feet but not impressive statistics.Or Washington senior LeRon Burroughs, a big-play receiver.
Once upon a time, Ricardo Ramos was one of those kids. The 2014 Milwaukee Riverside graduate started out as an offensive lineman at Division III UW-Whitewater but transferred to Division II St. Cloud State and earned all-conference recognition as a defensive lineman.
So how do you get more players recognized?
Riverside coach Patrick Wagner has sent about 50 kids into the college ranks during his 15 seasons. According to him, if a player is looking to get noticed, the process starts during the off-season before the senior year. The player contacts the position coach at the school by email and later sends highlight videos.
“We preach to our kids they’ve got to go to camps during the summer if they want colleges to look at them,” Wagner said. “The Badgers aren’t going to offer you unless you go to the Badger camp. It’s not going to happen. That’s the same thing with most of the big schools.”
Football camps are the sport’s equivalent to club basketball or soccer. It’s an opportunity for college coaches to see a lot of prospects at one time and sometimes even have them compete against each other.
In 2011. former Riverside standout Eric Murray played well in one such battle, and it helped land him a full scholarship to Minnesota. He went to the Gophers camp as a receiver, but after running an impressive 40-yard dash time, he was asked to play defensive back and matched up with one of the program’s top recruiting receiver targets.
According to Wagner, Murray dominated the matchup.
Murray went on to be a three-year starter for the Gophers and is currently in his second season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Most players, however, aren’t Division I material and most don’t have the dollars to pay for more than one or two camps.
“We suggest they visit a camp if they’re interested in a school, but to keep it realistic,” said King's Tom Wozniak, who like most coaches makes calls or contact with colleges on his player's behalf.
“A lot of kids will say they want to go to Wisconsin or they want to go to LSU and then you’ve got to counsel that kid into thinking let’s look at the roster they have right now and see if you fit into it."
For the past few years, Bay View coach Jeff Wallack has hosted a camp at his school that has been essentially free and draws about 10 Division III schools. He wants to see more City kids at the event.
The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association also hosts a combine in April that allows players to get official height and weight measurements and go through drills.
Calvin sent a number of his players to the combine last spring. He sees the event as a way for players to get their foot in the door with recruiters. If someone has the right combination of size and speed, coach will come to the school, he said.
As for Ellis, Calvin has been using his contacts – he is former junior college coach in North Dakota – to make sure his player isn’t forgotten.
Ellis said he tore his ACL, MCL and PCL. He has gone through two surgeries and has one more to go.
Before the injury, Ellis attended Minnesota’s spring game and Wisconsin had expressed interest. Now Calvin hopes Ellis can get healthy and be given a chance to walk on some place and eventually earn a scholarship.
Ellis is ready.
“I’m just thinking positive,” he said. “I’m not giving up. That’s it. I didn’t do all that hard work for nothing. I’m not giving up.”