The biggest surprise that came with the success of the New Enlgand Patriots 2010 season, was perhaps the emergence of a rising young superstar. A superstar in the form of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss. Green-Ellis has managed to maintain a positive outlook and level of focus and determination as he has traveled the road to the NFL.
Green-Ellis, a native of New Orleans chose to take his game to the University of Indiana, where he would garner First Team All-Big Ten Freshmen honors. Green-Ellis was thrilled to be playing under then coach Gerry DiNardo. During his freshmen season he posted a staggering 938 yards and 7 TD’s leading the team. His momentum would carry into his sophomore year as he was just as determined. He would rack up similar numbers, rushing for 794 yards and 5 TD’s.
After a promising start at the University of Indiana, head coach Gerry Dinardo was fired and then replaced by new head coach Terry Hoeppner. Green-Ellis committed to playing college football under coach Dinardo. After he was let go, Green-Ellis decided to re-evaluate his situation and open the door to new possibilities. After ultimately being granted his release from the University of Indiana, he began the recruiting process all over again. He felt an SEC program closer to where he grew up would be the best fit. Green-Ellis found refuge at the University of Mississippi.
“Ultimately with me transferring from Indiana University to Ole Miss, it really wasn’t because of the University (Inidiana). I was All Freshmen Big Ten my first year, and when Coach Dinardo got fired, Coach Hoepner and his staff came in and I wasn’t real familiar with those guys. I had to take it upon myself to do what I needed to do for me. That was the coach (Dinardo) I came to play for. I took it upon myself to go through the whole recruiting process after Indiana University granted me my request for my release. There were basically a couple of schools I was looking at; LSU, Ole Miss, and Auburn. I decided to go to Ole Miss. When I went there I really enjoyed my visits and just really felt at home.”
The stronger level of competition that came with playing in the SEC would actually prove to be familiar territory for Green-Ellis, as many of the players that he was competing against, he’d seen in his high school days in New Orleans.
“I have been playing with those type of guys all of my life, coming from New Orleans, Louisiana. It wasn’t much of an adjustment for me. All of the guys I ended up playing against in college, I had played against them at one point or another in high school. Playing high school in the southern region of the United States, a lot of those guys chose to play college football in the SEC, so the competition was pretty familiar for me.”
The jump from the Big-Ten to the SEC didn’t phase Green-Ellis. After sitting out in 2005 because of the NCAA transferring process, Green-Ellis arrived on the big stage with the same big play ability he demonstrated at Indiana. In his junior season he posted 1,000 yards and 7 TD’s. His senior season capped off a brief, yet successful campaign at Ole Miss. He logged 1,137 yards on the ground with 6 TD’s, ending his collegiate career as only the second running back in Ole Miss history to rush for back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. Green-Ellis earned First Team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press, leading him to think he’d set him self in a great position in the upcoming NFL Draft.
After a solid performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, Green-Ellis saw himself as a possible early to mid round pick. Unfortunately, his name was not called and he would go unselected in the draft. Green-Ellis took the events of the NFL Draft in stride, the same way he approaches everything in life.
“Coming into the draft after the season they have a grading system, and on that grading system I was figured into the 3rd or 4th round. It was a real funny year and with the draft, it is what it is. It just didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to. I just had to pick up the pieces and keep moving on.”
Green-Ellis describes himself as a naturally positive person, and a person that thrives off of hard work. The draft experience did not leave him with a bitter taste in his mouth. Having learned from growing up in the harsh conditions of New Orleans, he knew he had to rely on his hard work to help him persevere.
“I’ve always been the type of person to put in the effort to work hard and to do things that would allow me to become successful. Hard work is something that kind of comes along with the area I come from. Being from New Orleans, the odds are against us… We weren’t supposed to make it out of the city, we were supposed to be dealing drugs or something like that. Your back was always against the wall, you had no choice but to go out there and work hard to try and not become a statistic.”
Green-Ellis’ hard work would pay off. The New England Patriots signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2008. Green-Ellis was positioned at the bottom of the depth chart looking up at a group full of established NFL running backs consisting of Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan and Kevin Faulk. On paper Green-Ellis’s chances were slim. He would have to show the coaches something big if he wanted the chance to crack the active 53-man roster.
Initially, Green-Ellis would become a camp casualty, after he was cut prior to the start of the regular season. He knew that staying mentally sharp would be a key component in his eventual NFL success. He wouldn’t let his release from the Patriots cripple his outlook.
“I never thought I couldn’t compete with those guys because I was already there practicing against them. I was there for a reason. Again, it was just kind of how it panned out and ultimately I felt like I could continue to compete with those guys and beat them. Not necessarily the guys that I was competing against at running back, but going up against different defenses, I felt like it wasn’t a big drop off. I always felt like if I was confident in my abilities, everything would take care of itself.”
Days later, Green-Ellis was again signed by the New England Patriots and assigned to the practice squad. After only three weeks, his hard work earned him a spot on the active 53-man roster, a spot that he would not relinquish. His first significant appearance came against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football filling in for an injured Sammy Morris. Green-Ellis would register 65 yards on the ground and 13 carries.
2010 would be the year Green-Ellis established himself as a legitimate NFL running back. Early in the season, the Patriots traded their one time running back of the future and former first round pick Laurence Maroney to the Denver Broncos. Then perennial Pro Bowler Fred Taylor, would go down with an injury along with the Patriots main change of pace back Kevin Faulk, who was sidelined with a torn ACL.
Green-Ellis was prepared and ready to accept his new role, along with New York Jets castoff Danny Woodhead. Woodhead, also an undrafted free agent out of Chadron State in Nebraska was just as determined to prove his value in the NFL. The unproven Woodhead and Green-Ellis had Patriots fans skeptical of their chances for a successful running game in the 2010 season.
“Every week, you’re supposed to be ready… You never know when your time comes and when your time comes, you just need to be prepared and ready to perform.”
Green-Ellis ended the 2010 season with 1,008 rushing yards and 13 TD’s, becoming the first Patriot to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing since Cory Dillon in 2004.
In a surprising twist, the Patriots spent 2 early round picks in the 2011 NFL draft, selecting Cal running back Shane Vereen, and LSU running back Stevan Ridley. Even with the acquisition of the young running backs Green-Ellis is confident in his role with the team and confident in his ability to maintain the starting position. Green-Ellis does not use the picks made by the organization as any form of motivation.
“I don’t need anything to motivate me or anything like that, I will just always maintain my energy level and let my work show for itself.
Green-Ellis has made good use of his time during a time of NFL uncertainty and the current lock out. He’s taken his talent to Florida, splitting time between Orlando and Miami. In Orlando, he works on fine-tuning his skills with other veteran players at the ESPN Wide World of Sports under the tutelage of coach Tom Shaw.
When he isn’t in Orlando he is investing his time in the ring at Miami’s 5th Street Gym. A boxing facility where some of the world’s best are training for upcoming bouts. Green-Ellis has split time between these two locations for very specific purposes in improving his game.
“I’m currently training in Orlando, Florida with coach Tom Shaw at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. I’m working with some good guys like Ike Taylor of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Overall there is a real good group of guys out there. I’m Just working on my speed and conditioning. I’ve also been doing a lot of boxing training at Miami’s 5th Street Gym with Angelo Dundee.”
“When I’m down in Miami at the 5th Street Gym with the boxing training, it’s been a great way to work on my footwork and my cardio. I’m also working with some really great guys. Working with some of the top boxers in the world like world heavyweight champ David Haye, and super middleweight champion Andre Dirrell. So it’s not like I’m just going to a regular boxing gym and just kind of training. I’m working with some of the guys that are the best in the world at what they do. It’s a tremendous honor and I’m really happy to be working with these guys.”
Green-Ellis continues to strive for excellence, and to prove that even after the roster moves made in the draft, he can continue to hold his coveted spot on the depth chart.
“I continue to just try and push myself to the limit. If you don’t push yourself to that point, then you will really never know how good you can be and what you’re truly capable of. I don’t set goals because I feel like you’re limiting yourself.”
BenJarvus Green-Ellis remains optimistic at the chances of football being played in 2011. He continues to stay prepared in focus like he always has as he waits for that phone call allowing him to get back on the field with his teammates.
“I hope that there’s a season in 2011. We’re working hard to get back out there and be able to put the best product out on the field that we can. Even though we’re in a lockout situation, and we’re not able to work out at Gillette (stadium). All the players are still working hard to get back out there and perform.”
The hard work that Green-Ellis is putting in this offseason is something that reflects his hard working and dedicated personality. Green-Ellis’ career has always been refelctive of the work that he has invested The current NFL lockout is forcing players to be accountable for their own work outs, and may even prove to weed out some the players aren’t self motivated or disciplined enough, to put in the work that it takes to be successful in the NFL. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is in prime position to pick up right where he left off in 2010 and continue into 2011.