Reynard Ellis voluntarily gave up football a year ago. He did so without a twinge of regret, but nobody said it was an easy process.

"Mentally, it was tough on me,” said Ellis, a 6-foot, 240-pound Birmingham native, who was a starting inside linebacker in the Georgia Southern football program at the time. “Football is something I love. I didn’t really want to sit out. But I was kind of down and out about my grandmothers. They both passed away around the same time [last fall]. I just wanted to shift my focus on school. If I transferred then, I was going to lose some credit hours. I wanted to graduate before I transferred. I had something that kept me going, and I knew I had this last year left.”

Ellis arrived at UAB in January with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Georgia Southern. Officially, he walked on at UAB, and he immediately began working his way up a crowded depth chart. The Blazers were returning three-year starter Noah Wilder, two other linebackers with starting experience in Deshaun Oliver Jr. and Tyler Taylor, and some promising youngsters. They also added University of Alabama transfer Jackson Bratton and junior college transfer Reise Collier.

Ellis, who has one season of college eligibility remaining, was undeterred by the competition.

“He’s going to compete, but that’s what he’s done since he’s been here. I don’t expect anything less,” said UAB defensive coordinator David Reeves, who coaches the linebackers.

Reeves and the defensive staff knew all about Ellis. They recruited him while he was at Shades Valley. Ellis was a standout linebacker at the school for his entire high school career, earning a pair of all-state selections, and rushing for more than 1,300 yards in his lone season as a running back.

Something else jumped out to Reeves.

“I’m partial to the wrestlers, and he’s a former state champion,” said Reeves, a former varsity wrestling head coach at Athens High in North Alabama. “I think their leverage is good; they’re really tough kids, usually. If you’re an upper-level wrestler, then you can’t make football practice hard enough. I’m telling you can’t make practice hard enough for a wrestler from what they’ve been through in the mat room.”

Ellis also said perfecting the takedowns in wrestling helps with tackling and, as a 215-pound heavyweight wrestler in high school, he was accustomed to dealing with bigger opponents.

UAB was unable to sign Ellis because the Blazers didn’t have a spot available. His recruitment came at the time that the Blazers were rebuilding a program with older recruits.

Ellis moved on to Furman University, where he had 92 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception while starting 10 of the team’s 12 games during his true freshman season. In two seasons at Georgia Southern, he had 145 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks while starting in 21 of 22 games. His best individual game came in a 2020 loss to Army, when he was credited with 18 tackles.

Now he’s content to make his final season special.

“It motivates me a lot,” Ellis said. “When I was coming back, a lot of people didn’t believe in me. That’s why I’m here at UAB. Like Coach Reeves said, they already believed in me before, but the scholarship numbers weren’t there. I just want to come out here, ball out in front of my hometown.”

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