Before Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was winning a Heisman Trophy, he was throwing passes to Ryan Ellis.
Ellis, a receiver who transferred to the University of Arizona after last year, was Tebow’s lead target at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The combination was a nearly unstoppable force, as Ellis led the state in catches.
“They were really good together,” said UA receiving coach Michael Smith, who first recruited Ellis while on the Kansas State staff in 2005.
“Ryan was (Tebow’s) main guy. When you watch his highlight tape in high school, he catches the ball and made some unbelievable runs. When you catch the ball from Tebow, who everybody in the country is recruiting at the time, you are going to get noticed.”
Tebow and Ellis are no longer together on the field, but still talk.
“We still stay in touch,” Ellis said after Thursday’s UA practice at Tucson High. “I will call him once or twice. He is doing his own thing and I am doing mine.
“I try not to invade his space.”
Tebow has gone on to big things in Gainesville. Ellis, after a two-year stint at Southern Mississippi, is hoping to do the same with the Wildcats. He got a waiver from the NCAA allowing him to play this season.
“Tebow was a great quarterback. It was good for me,” Ellis said. “It got me ready for the next level. He got all of our receivers ready. The caliber of quarterback was second to none.”
Willie Tuitama will be throwing passes to Ellis this season – if the receiver can catch on to the system in time.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound wideout set a state high school record with 103 catches for 1,911 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior season. He caught 74 passes for 1,600 yards and 16 scores as a junior.
Despite the attention that came with the Tebow recruiting circus, Ellis was just a two-star recruit.
The two-time all-state selection eventually signed with Southern Mississippi, where he redshirted in 2006 before playing sparingly last year.
Ellis needed a change after a head coaching switch with the Golden Eagles.
That is when a conversation took place between Smith and an acquaintance from Ponte Vedra Beach.
“I’m sitting on an airplane talking to a guy, and he brought up that there was a guy who wanted to transfer from Southern Mississippi,” Smith said. “It wound up being Ryan Ellis. I said, ‘I know that kid.’ ”
Smith had been the first person to offer Ellis a college scholarship, but after Kansas State made a coaching staff move, the two lost contact.
They found each other again.
“Coach Smith was one of my biggest supporters coming out of high school,” Ellis said.
Smith knew Ellis. Ellis loved Arizona’s four wideout system.
“It was perfect for me,” Ellis said.