What was shown on the television screens during the broadcast of the Michigan High School Athletic Association football playoff selection show was Grand Haven with an 8-1 record, and earning a home game in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs for the third-straight season. The Bucs will battle Grand Ledge (7-2) on Friday at 7 p.m.
In a way, Ellis said, that moment stood as redemption for any doubters the Bucs had in the preseason.
“(The success we’ve had) says that we’ve got a good team and our team chemistry is really strong,” said Ellis, a two-way lineman for the Buccaneers. “I think a lot of people thought this was going to be some type of rebuilding season, but I guess we proved them all wrong.”
As one of those three returning starters on defense, Ellis, who stands 6-foot and weighs 265 pounds, has played a huge role in the Bucs’ continued success. For a lineman, he has an impressive total of 55 total tackles — including seven for loss — as well as four sacks.
On the defensive line, Grand Haven defensive coordinator Jason Durham said the bulk and toughness of Ellis and fellow senior Torrey Appel, as well as the speed, agility and tenacity of Matt Jacobson has made the unit a strength.
“All three of them have done a great job occupying offensive linemen, which allows our inside linebackers to flow toward the ball,” Durham said. “It’s our goal to keep those linemen off of those inside ‘backers, and as you saw in the closing minutes against West Ottawa, we were able to get a lot of pressure on their quarterback because of that.”
Take away the offensive shootout at Rockford, in which the Bucs surrendered a season-worst 42 points, and the defense has had several shining performances, allowing an average of just over 14 points a game. Linebackers Isaak Newhouse, Tanner Jacobs, Adam Krizan and C.J. Moll have also been steady contributors to the defense’s success.
“It’s taken us throughout the year to get where we want to be, to get progressively better,” Durham said. “We’ve gotten a little better here, a little better there every week.”
Ellis said the entire defense has benefited from developing strength, speed and agility in the off-season, as they often gave up precious time of summer leisure to work in the weight room or practice field.
“I lifted three days a week (during the summer) and last year, we kicked it into high gear with our speed school,” Ellis said. “It’s tough in the beginning, but after awhile, you get used to it. It helps a lot (now), especially late in games.”
Being dedicated in the off-season has been easy, Ellis said, because the passion for football has been passed down from father to son. Ellis’ father, Norris Ellis Sr., played at the prep level in Mississippi, and signed his son up to play beginning in the third grade.
“I started out with the Tri-Cities Mariners,” Ellis said, who was voted Grand Haven’s Homecoming king this season. “I started out as an offensive center, but I’ve always played defensive line, too.”
He remembers vividly the Bucs’ last meeting against Grand Ledge.
“I was on JV, and I was on the sidelines,” he recalled. “It was freezing.”
The Bucs won easily in that contest two years ago, which was the start of transforming Grand Haven into a “football school,” Durham said.
“Winning breeds continued success,” he said. “This team hopefully has continued to establish the foundation, so the next group of young players sees what it takes. Now, the next step is to establish a tradition of winning in the postseason.”
Ellis would like to be apart of that movement, and he said the Bucs head into the Division 1 playoffs full of confidence.
“We’ve worked so hard to get here, we feel the only team that can beat us is ourselves,” Ellis said. “If we stay focused and mentally prepare, we feel we can go pretty far.”