Former Oklahoma running back Quentin Griffin, the current running backs coach at Blinn Community College, played a key role in defensive lineman Josh Ellison’s arrival in Norman.
“He said I would love it,” Ellison recalls Griffin telling him during his recruitment process. Even OU defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux remembered Griffin telling him to “stick with it,” when developing and recruiting Ellison. Thibodeaux and Griffin were teammates on the 2002 OU team, when Thibodeaux was a freshman and Griffin was a senior captain.
Ellison, who transferred from Blinn College to OU after his freshman season, was a three-star recruit per Rivals. In his first season with the Sooners, he missed his initial spring practices due to COVID-19, but still managed to appear in all 11 games, even making starts against Kansas State and Kansas.
Fast forward to Ellison’s third semester as an OU student, and the 6-foot-3 junior is playing with the first-team defense in spring camp, according to Thibodeaux. Ellison flashed his potential last season, whether it was a half-sack late in the first half against Kansas, or a fourth quarter fumble recovery against Iowa State in the regular season.
“I think his best football is ahead of him,” Thibodeaux said during Monday’s press conference. “He’s ran with the ones all spring and done a great job for us. We’re really expecting big things out of him.”
Although he appeared in every game, Ellison accumulated just half a sack in 2020, so he wanted to work on his pass-rush skills in the offseason. Ellison said the hardest part transitioning from junior college to Oklahoma was the pace of the game, while also learning the defense.
“It actually helped me a lot,” Ellison said about having practices this spring. “I’ve been having a little bit more production than I did last year and the game’s starting to slow down for me. So I think that’s a pretty big jump for me.”
Listed as a defensive tackle recruit, Ellison played defensive end in junior college. He transitioned into the interior lineman spot for the Sooners, saying it was difficult at first going against larger players. Ellison credited former OU and NFL-bound lineman Ronnie Perkins as an older teammate that helped show him new techniques.
OU coach Lincoln Riley said he expects all of his players to breakout eventually, but said on April 15 two guys that have stood out this spring were Ellison and fellow interior defensive lineman Jordan Kelley.
“Both those guys have really taken some nice steps this spring, and they both had really good spring practices,” Riley said, “And (I’ve) been proud of the way those guys performed.”
With Ellison and Kelley’s emergence, along with the return of redshirt sophomore Jalen Redmond from opting-out, the confidence is high inside the defensive-line room.
“I think we’re super deep, probably more deep than ever,” Ellison said. “Like, I don’t think there’s a single dropoff on the line.”