Fun-loving Rock Bridge offensive line clears path to success

Monday, September 20, 2010 | 9:45 p.m. CDT; updated 10:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 20, 2010
Rock Bridge coach A.J. Odofile says he doesn't mind the fun-loving ways of offensive linemen Jeremy Smith, left, and Jacob Ellis. “They’re as goofy as they get,” Ofodile said. “But they’re respectful and conscientious, and they understand when it’s time to go to work.”

COLUMBIA — It started in the tunnel at Faurot Field before the Providence Bowl. As usual, Jacob Ellis and Jeremy Smith were at the center of it. No one involved with the Rock Bridge football team would be surprised. It seems that Ellis, Smith and the rest of the offensive line are at the center of a lot of things.

Waiting to run on the field, Ellis suddenly bellows a line from a Tech N9ne song titled “OG” that Smith had played for Ellis earlier.

“South side, what it do?”

The sound echoes through the tunnel. Players who had heard the song know how to respond. Those who haven’t catch on quick.

“Ay!” they shout in approval since Rock Bridge stands on the southern edge of Columbia’s city limits. Ellis repeats the call, again the rest of the team responds. This goes on until the the Bruins run onto to the field. With a thrilling 24-20 victory over rival Hickman, a pregame tradition has been born.

Ellis can’t help but be the center of attention. His exuberant personality features practical jokes and witty one-liners that have been present since he was 3 years old. At a family gathering, he told a cousin who had dental problems that “the tooth fairy must have been really good” to him. His father, Tim Ellis, claims that was the day the smattering of gray hairs on his goatee began. That gray has grown over the years.

But the best practical joke of the season was on Jacob Ellis. During summer two-a-days, he had left the school to have lunch. He had also left his car unlocked.

Smith, along with defensive tackle Jadie Mann, went to work.

When Jacob Ellis returned he found his car in the middle of the school parking lot, jacked up off the ground. A box of wet naps had been spread all over the interior and instant lemonade packets had been opened and dumped everywhere. His spare tire was in the driver’s seat.

Jacob Ellis quietly cleaned his car, while Smith and Co. looked on, laughing.

It takes a certain sense of humor to play on the offensive line for any team. For the Bruins, if you can’t take a joke, you might as well quit. They get on each other throughout practice, working hard but smiling throughout. Rock Bridge head coach A.J. Ofodile said he understands that the constant ribbing and belly laughing is part of how the unit has come together.

“They’re as goofy as they get,” Ofodile said. “But they’re respectful and conscientious, and they understand when it’s time to go to work.”

Jacob Ellis and Smith take their humor and competitiveness off the field. Sometimes it’s a friendly movie, other times it’s a putting competition on the practice green at Dick’s Sporting Goods. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that things can get heated.

“I’ve never thrown a putter,” Jacob Ellis said. “But I did whack a ball down the aisle once.”

Cohesiveness and team play have been important for the line’s success in 2010. In terms of size, the group isn’t enormous. Guard Matt Weinsting is the heaviest at 255 pounds, while tackle Nick Sublett is the tallest at 6 feet 4, and Smith is just 5-9.  But in a spread option offense that is predicated on deception and smarts rather than power football, the mental portion of the game might be the most important.

“It’s certainly a thinking man’s line,” offensive line coach Darnell Jones said. “The traditional stereotype of monster animals doesn’t apply.”

It’s easy to tell Jacob Ellis comes from a strong football pedigree. At age 17, he is 6-3, 225 pounds, giving him plenty of room to fill out a frame that is muscular but thin. His father thinks he can play tight end in the future. It’s an opinion that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Tim Ellis played safety at Texas Tech in the mid-1980s.

But his stature isn’t as revealing as the way that Jacob Ellis speaks about the game. He answers questions like football is a lifestyle, not just a favorite activity. It’s shows a life that has included football from the outset.

“My dad always told me ‘men aren’t scared,’” Jacob Ellis said. “I want to be the better man on every play.”

The offensive line is a place where Jacob Ellis can prove he is the better man. Often viewed as a position that isn’t much fun, he finds a joy in it that is hard to understand unless you see him talk about it. His smile widens and he noticeably relaxes, dreaming of pancake blocks and long touchdowns.

“There’s contact on every play,” he said. “You get to hit someone on every single snap.”

Jacob Ellis is just happy to be on the field. Between reconstructive foot surgery and a broken finger, he missed the majority of his chances to play in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, finally healthy, he starts at right tackle for the Bruins.

“He doesn’t feel any pressure out there,” Ofodile said. “Because of the injuries, he just plays like a kid who loves the game.”

“South side, what it do?” has become a catch phrase for the 3-1 Bruins. Jacob Ellis’ sister even had a T-shirt made with the line printed on the back. The phrase is just one of the examples of the way the offensive line has helped the entire team come together.

When the team gets down, Jacob Ellis will yell, “Where’s my O-line at?”

“We have the biggest bond on the team,” he said. “We get everybody going.”

It’s a unit that truly operates like a family. Everyone has a role and despite all the joking, they still come together on and off the field.

“We really do care about each other,” Jacob Ellis said. “ ...We’re the easiest guys to come talk to.”

Picking each other up on the field has been something the Bruins have had to do at times. This season's group of seniors has yet to have a winning varsity season and at times the doubt creeps in. There is certainly pressure.

“Their biggest fear is letting their teammates down,” Ofodile said. “Their pride kicks in.”

But that’s where the playfulness comes into play – to eliminate the doubt and remind the Bruins they are capable of playing together and having success.

“You use that stuff, the jokes and all that, to get through those moments where we get down on our spirit,” Jacob Ellis said. “We know what we need to do to succeed.”

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