Six weeks ago Jayrone Elliott developed into a model of reliability for his teammates to lean on when the temperature of a game reaches its highest point.
Aching for a stop? Desperate for a turnover? Elliott, a University of Toledo defensive end, has proven to be trustworthy with the outcome swaying in the balance.
He is, in other words, accountable, an attribute that had eluded him for much of his life. Before he developed a penchant for coming through in the clutch on the field, Elliott lacked direction off of it. Academic issues followed him throughout high school, and his introduction to college came with hiccups.
"Coming out of high school, I had to grow up a lot," Elliott, of Cleveland, said. "I was immature. One thing coach [Matt] Campbell and I talked about from day one was me growing up and being responsible and accountable for my actions."
That emphasis, at least from an athletic standpoint, started to materialize last month when Elliott recorded two sacks in the fourth quarter of a close win over Coastal Carolina. Once he got a taste of terrorizing quarterbacks, he didn’t stop. Elliott, who leads with 5.5 sacks as a reserve, followed with sacks in the next three games, all in the second halves of wins.
He added to his legend the past two weeks, making huge plays at critical points. Elliott busted through the line in the third quarter against Cincinnati, making a third-down stop to end a drive at midfield after Toledo failed to recover an onside kick. His most recent highlight resonated loudly, as Elliott cemented Saturday’s 25-20 win at Buffalo with a sack and forced fumble with less than under two minutes to go. Colby Kratch recovered the ball, assuring the Rockets of their eighth win in a row.
"It’s just amazing to watch him grow," defensive tackle Danny Farr said of Elliott. "He keeps coming through for us in the clutch."
At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Elliott is somewhat of a one-trick pony who appears primarily on obvious passing situations. If he can can develop into a run stuffer, he surmises, "I can be one of the best defensive ends in this conference."
Elliott said he viewed high school as a "fashion show," concerned more with chasing females than scoring well academically. Those misaligned priorities cost him his freshman season at Glenville, where he was ineligible to participate in sports, and lingered years later as BCS programs soured on him. Venerable football coach Ted Ginn intervened, encouraging Elliott to transfer to the all-male Ginn Academy, an institution dedicated to helping urban kids overcome challenges.
"I used to take him home," Glenville assistant coach Matt Chinchar said. "We’d talk. He had some academic issues, but he finished strong, got his diploma, and now he’s doing great things at Toledo."
Last November Elliott returned to the Academy to speak to students facing similar struggles. He stressed to them the importance of academics and accountability.
"It was very well done," Chinchar said.
Elliott credits his ongoing transformation to teammates such as defensive linemen Ben Pike, Christian Smith, T.J. Fatinikun, and Hank Keighley. Those four, along with linemen Farr, Kratch, and Phil Lewis, will be gone after this season, leaving Elliott to take on a new role, that of a leader.
His coach thinks he’ll be ready. Campbell on Monday told a story from when he recruited Elliott, and asked him about his life ambitions.
"He said, coach, I’d like to come back to Cleveland and be what Ted Ginn is to so many people," Campbell recalled. "I knew at that point we were getting a special young man."
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