By: Tyler Millen – GoPSUsports.com Student Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Senior safety Keaton Ellis was a wide-eyed freshman when he made his Beaver Stadium debut on Aug. 31, 2019 against Idaho. The State College native will trot out of the tunnel for the final time in his Penn State career on Saturday as a poised veteran who’s embraced his journey.
Ellis shined as a wide receiver and defensive back during his days at State College High School and became Penn State’s first class of 2019 commit on Sept. 9, 2017. No active Nittany Lion has played more career games than Ellis, who’s donned a blue and white uniform 53 times.
Football has been in the Ellis blood for generations as Keaton’s dad, Bruce Ellis, played for Penn State from 1973 to 1976. The father-son duo has cultivated meaningful moments during the past half-decade but their respective journeys will bring them back to the Saturday’s senior day celebration where new memories are set to be made.
“It’s bittersweet and I’m just trying to enjoy these last few weeks with the guys as much as I can,” Ellis said. “I’m looking forward to going out on Beaver Stadium one last time and just really excited about it. Having my parents, my family there, those people have supported me through all this. I’m just very thankful for them and just glad I’m able to share that experience. I get to share my emotions too with them.”
Keaton’s dynamic playmaking ability has been consistent as the Keystone State standout was named to the Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list ahead of the 2023 season. Ellis amassed 86 total tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions during a time he’s battled highs and lows.
Keaton has embodied sacrifice and found ways to elevate his game alongside former Nittany Lion safeties Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown. Players like Brisker and Brown have come and gone but Ellis has remained a constant in Penn State’s secondary.
Keaton’s taken the past week reflecting on “all the memories of the big games, the fans cheering you on, the sacrifices that you make with your brothers and the biggest thing for me is just the time spent with my teammates.” The veteran defensive back is focused on embracing a “phenomenal” journey as said by head coach James Franklin.
“He had a really good senior year and recruiting process as both a wide receiver and a defensive back and was able to come in here with maturity and play,” Franklin said. “He’s kind of seen it all. He’s had the full experience in terms of COVID, academics, success, adversity and handled it all with class. He’s been phenomenal. He’s graduated from here multiple times and went to preschool on campus.”
Keaton’s fifth and final season in Happy Valley has brought the title of captain and he’s personified his leadership role in a talented safeties room. The role hasn’t changed his mindset because Keaton wants to make an “impact on the field as much as I can.”
Players like junior Jaylen Reed, redshirt sophomore Zakee Wheatley and sophomore Kevin Winston Jr have all benefited from Keaton’s leadership as Winston has grown close with Keaton by learning the X’s and O’s from him. “He’s just the guy with all the answers and experience.” Winston said there’s a level of “comfortability” with Keaton.
“Luckily I was able to have a lot of really great guys to look up to,” Ellis said. “One thing that I got from them is just as a captain, you gotta look out for your players. Make sure that you’re caring for your players and giving them an ear to vent to that you can be that ear, if they need to have a tough conversation about anything, regardless of it’s football or if it’s not football, be there for them.”
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Dvon Ellies has spent the past five seasons with Ellis and the duo have been prominent vocal leaders in the locker room. Ellies remarked on Keaton’s long-time familiarity with Penn State before the safety even stepped on campus as crucial to understanding what “successful teams and non-successful teams looks like.”
Ellies said “his leadership is tremendous” and Winston echoed that sentiment. Keaton will leave Penn State with a degree in recreation, parks and tourism management and with something much larger. Lessons on how to be successful in the world.
“I’m just thankful for Penn State,” Keaton said. “It really goes back to the core values and that’s gonna carry on for the rest of my life. If you work hard, you’re going to like where you’re at. You’re gonna have to sacrifice some things and always have a positive attitude which was something that I’ve always had but I was able to grow in regardless of the situation…Those things are gonna really help me whether it’s football, whether it’s not football, regardless of what the next step is, I’m going to be prepared.”