MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Draylen Ellis is preparing for one of the biggest games of his career.
The former Kirby standout returning home for the Southern Heritage Classic as the starting quarterback for Tennessee State.
“I just want to lead my team and do what we need to do to get the victory,” Ellis said.
Being named QB1 wasn’t given to him, his talent and even keel leadership style helped him earn it.
“He just loves the challenge and they’re giving him the challenge,” said Ellis’ father James. “The one thing that Coach [Eddie] George said, you know, he would rather see a sermon than hear one and he’s the leader that he wanted him to be. D.J. has been given a lot of accolades and a lot of things at home or whatever, and Coach George, he made him earn it.”
The Tigers are coming in as the underdogs against Jackson State, but Ellis has been doubted his entire life.
He didn’t hit his growth spurt until the 11th grade and even now at 6’0″ 181 pounds, he’s still considered small. On top of that, he’s had countless coaches try to persuade him to change positions.
All of this serves as fuel to go out and give it his all every snap.
“Some people don’t believe I can do what a 6-4, 200 pound quarterback does,” Ellis said. “It motivates me to go harder and work harder and just prove people wrong.”
Before transferring to TSU this season, Ellis spent two years at Austin Peay where he garnered Ohio Valley Co-Freshman of the Year honors and entered his sophomore season as the conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. He would go on to lead the league in passing touchdowns, yards, and total offense per game.
“The talent he has is just God given talent,” said James Ellis. “He was always better than most folk. I mean, just in running and moving, you know, setting the Southaven record in touchdowns or whatever, he was just short.”
“What a lot of people saw as short, I always saw as heart.”
Although Saturday will be Ellis’ first time playing Jackson State, it’s not his first match up against JSU starting quarterback Sheuder Sanders.
“We played each other in 7v7 twice and he got me twice. It’s pretty good to play each other again. We’ve been playing since high school days, so it’s going to be a good matchup.”
A good match up with his No. 1 fan in the stands, his 2-year-old son Aiden.
“I just feel like if I see him, just not on the camera, it’s just going to motivate me more because I’m doing it for him.”
Ellis and the Tigers take on Jackson State Saturday at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Kick-off for the Southern Heritage Classic is set for 6 p.m.