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November 17, 2007When Sedrick Ellis tells it, his story seems so perfectly accidental:
No organized sports until high school, when he joined the football team because all his friends were doing it. No major athletic bloodlines, just a father who played linebacker at Dorsey High.
A projected first-round draft pick, Ellis remains unfamiliar with most of the names on the back of NFL jerseys. His rottweiler takes precedence over football broadcasts. His television screen glimmers with the Discovery and History channels, rather than the nightly highlight shows.
But, the 6-foot-1, 300 pounder always has been big.
"It didn't just come overnight," Ellis said.
And his athleticism showed up early.
"I actually thought he was going to play basketball," said his father, Dwayne, who often attends USC practice and looks more than capable of jumping in, should the Trojans need an extra man.
Father and son used to compete against each other in basketball.
"Once he started beating me, I stopped playing," Dwayne said with a laugh.
Ellis is 22, which would mean Dwayne stopped playing eight years ago.
Dwayne's football career took him to Santa Monica junior college and West Texas, he said. His wife ran track in high school. Although the three Ellis daughters may be "girly-girls," Sedrick did not exactly come out of nowhere.
USC's All-America defensive tackle actually played a season of organized football at age 10 - with 14 and 15 year olds.
By the start of the following season, he had gained 20 pounds. At 185, Ellis was deemed too big to play, Dwayne said, even with kids three and four years older. He would have to wait until high school.
Food disappears quickly in Ellis' off-campus house, which he shares with two other defensive linemen - Fili Moala (290 pounds) and Kyle Moore (275).
Although they all like to eat, "This guy will put it down," Moala said of Ellis. Dwayne said his son eats less than he used to.
Moala described a typical Ellis meal from McDonald's as, "Two large fries, three double cheeseburgers - no pickles, no onions.
"I just make fun of him all the time. Call him Fat Boy. 'Faaaaat.'
"But then, when he catches me slaying it, he's like, 'Dude, you're faaaaat.'
"We just rotate it."
Besides his big meals and a love of video games, there is "really nothing stereotypical about Sed," Moala said.
While his roommates tend to sit down and watch college and pro football, Ellis is partial to the "Planet Earth" series on Discovery.
"Don't get me wrong, I'll catch a game here and there," he said. "But, as far as sitting down like, 'Oh, I've got to watch it,' - no. No I don't."
Ellis is one of eight semifinalists for the Lott Trophy, which goes to college football's "impact" defensive player of the year. Through 10 games, he has recorded 45 tackles, including nine for loss and six and a half sacks.
For someone who plays a position that demands aggression, "He's a real calm dude," Moore said. "He just flips a switch on the football field."
Said Moala, "He never puts anyone down. But at the same time, you still see the confidence in him - when he's walking around campus, or when he's on the field - that he is that guy."
Ellis, a fifth-year senior, is considered a top-five prospect in the 2008 NFL draft by multiple scouting services.
"I'm trying to stay focused on what I have right here in front of me - finishing the last few games and finishing up all that stuff strong," Ellis said. "Of course you think about (the NFL). It's natural. But I try to stay as focused as possible."
Ellis refers salivating agents to his father.
"I explain to them, 'You have to wait until after the season to talk about all that,'" Dwayne said. "Most of them receive it pretty well."
Something that could diminish his stock slightly is the presence of LSU's standout defensive tackle, Glenn Dorsey, widely considered the No. 1 senior in the country, regardless of position. Ellis is aware of the obstacle, despite his affinity for educational television.
"On every play, (Dorsey) just kind of shoots upfield," Ellis said. "That's his way of causing havoc. I kind of am, I feel, a more agile player - like I can move from sideline to sideline a little better than him.
"We're both good at what we do. So it will be interesting to see - when all that stuff comes to pass - how it goes."
Moala and Moore have begun considering prospects for a springtime roommate who can help maintain the house's "harmony," should Ellis train for the draft elsewhere.
"Sometimes we tell (Ellis), 'Hey man, when you're at the next level, shoot me some money,'" Moala said with a laugh. "We're always ragging on him like, 'Hey man, just let me hold five dollars!'"
With multi-millions waiting, Ellis talks of his junior season in high school, when the collegiate offers began to arrive. "I'm like, 'OK, this may really be something I can do. It turned out I ended up here and had a great career here, and I'm just hoping to move on to the next level pretty soon."
"He knows what's in store for him," Moore said. "When that time comes, he'll be ready for it."
Jonathan Kay can be reached at Jon@USCFootball.com