Another successful football season by the Cardinals once again saw players from that group prove themselves worthy of playing at the next level.
Running back Marcus Ellis and offensive linemen Austin Reese and Jacob Carlson signed their letters of intent on Feb. 5.
Ellis will play for Abilene Christian, choosing the Wildcats over North Texas, Purdue and Tulsa, while Reese is headed to Concordia University in Nebraska. Carlson picked Southwestern Assemblies of God.
While Ellis’ success has come in the backfield, he will be making a switch to receiver at Abilene Christian.
"It’s going to be a change," Ellis said. "The transition from running back to slot receiver won’t be too difficult but there are things I am working on to be better at the position."
This past season, Ellis ran for 1,124 yards and 19 touchdowns on 129 carries, had 15 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns and was selected as District 12-3A’s Most Valuable Player as the Cardinals repeated as district champions.
As a junior, Ellis finished with 1,382 yards and 16 touchdowns on 165 carries and was the district’s Offensive Player of the Year and an honorable mention all-state selection. Late in his sophomore season he emerged as a major contributor during the Cardinals’ run to the Class 2A state championship, totaling 963 yards and eight touchdowns on 126 carries as a powerful 1-2 backfield punch with Kristov George. He was the District 7-2A (I) Newcomer of the Year.
"I had a bunch of good mentors that year," Ellis said. "The momentum of that year carried on to my junior year and my senior year."
Abilene Christian moved up to Division I and competed at the Football Championship Series level for the first time this past season. The Wildcats went 6-5 and have had a winning record for the past eight seasons — which ties the longest stretch in school history.
"I’m a big competitor," Ellis said. "I feel like this school, moving up, there’s history to be made."
ACU competed as an independent program but will join the Southland Conference this season and be eligible for the NCAA playoffs in 2017.
The Wildcats were members of the Lone Star Conference since 1972 and won five LSC titles, most recently in 2008 and 2010, and a pair of NAIA Division I championships in 1973 and 1977.
Helping pave the way for Ellis were Reese and Carlson. Reese shared the District 12-3A Offensive Lineman of the Year honor with Anna’s Austin Watkins, while Carlson earned first-team all-district honors for the defending district champions.
"Being around these guys who have a winning mentality has prepared me for the next level," Reese said. "They make us work really hard."
Reese picked Concordia over several schools, including East Texas Baptist, Howard Payne and Missouri Valley.
"I was looking for a good school with a good atmosphere. I wanted a good Christian atmosphere," said Reese, who will be an option at guard and tackle. "I want to enjoy myself not just in football."
Concordia, an NAIA program, was 7-4 this past season and finished 5-4 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs won their first six games and climbed as high as 15th in the national rankings.
Carlson, who picked SAGU over A&M-Commerce and Evangel, saw a match with the Purple Pride.
"I always wanted to do ministry," Carlson said. "It’s kind of a gateway for me. It was a natural fit."
Southwestern Assemblies of God, an NAIA program, went 6-4 this past season, earned second place with a 4-1 mark in the Central States Football League and third in the National Christian College Athletic Association national rankings.
"They have a lot of seniors so I may not be redshirting," said Carlson, who could be either a tackle or guard. "My freshman year I may play some."