A Bahamian treasure

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

CALGARY -- Godfrey Ellis isn't exactly a normal football player.

So much about Ellis and his situation with the Calgary Stampeders is unusual.

Example A: He is doing an admirable job filling the shoes of legendary centre Jamie Crysdale even though he's a raw rookie at the tender age of 23.

Example B: Before arriving in Cowtown, Ellis had just three years of organized football experience, not eight or 10 years like many players.

Example C: He was born and raised in the Bahamas, not exactly a football hotbed.

In more than 30 years of coaching football and talent hunting, Stamp GM Jim Barker has never found a player from the Bahamas.

But, boy, are the Stamps glad they found Ellis, who makes his third consecutive start this afternoon against the Edmonton Eskimos in the biggest game of the year to date for both teams.

Crysdale - a 13-year all-star veteran - officially retired this week, but missed several games this season with knee problems.

With nowhere else to turn, the Stamps turned to their raw rookie - and Ellis has delivered in style with extremely impressive play at one of the most difficult positions on the entire football field.

"It is almost unheard of for a rookie," said Barker of Ellis' fine play. "I know of all the positions on the football field, the one position you really don't want rookies at is on the offensive line.

"It is a very complicated position to play.

"The centre sets the blocking scheme. You also have to snap the ball on time.

"If you are just a split second late, it causes all kinds of issues."

But there have been no serious issues in Calgary.

Crysdale played his last game on Oct. 14, handing the torch to Ellis in the process.

GIVEN UP JUST ONE SACK

In the last two games, the Stamps have given up just one sack while rushing for a stunning 260 yards.

"Whether you are a first-year guy or a 10-year guy, centre is a tough position to play," said 12-year veteran OL Jay McNeil.

"As a rookie I couldn't have done it."

Ellis has done it with coaching from Crysdale and by practically moving his life into the Stamps' headquarters at McMahon Stadium.

"He lives in the film room," said quarterback Henry Burris.

NO FOOTBALL BACKGROUND

What makes this story even more compelling is the fact Ellis didn't play a structured football game until 2002.

There are no high school football teams in the Bahamas. He couldn't even play on a club team.

"Just in pick-up games," said the soft-spoken six-two, 300 pounder.

Looking for a good economics school, Ellis moved to the Canadian Maritimes in 2001 to attend Acadia.

After watching football on TV in his homeland, he approached the Acadia coach - but didn't even start his training on the offensive side of the ball, instead playing on the defensive line.

If it weren't for several graduating players leaving the o-line the next year, Ellis probably wouldn't be in Calgary today.

But then again, Ellis didn't believe he'd play in the CFL even after moving positions.

"I never dreamed of (being drafted this year)," he said.

"I actually had all my stuff packed up to move back home because I had graduated already.

"Then I had a change of plans and moved to Calgary."

And today he moves into the trench against the stiffest opponent he has ever witnessed, as the Eskimos boast the top run defence in the league and the second-highest sack total.

With Crysdale starting both previous games this season against the arch-rival Eskimos, this is Ellis's baptism by fire in a game that will decide home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"Edmonton runs a lot of blitz schemes and different twists. They try to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and (Ellis) makes all the (blocking) calls," said Burris.

"There is definitely a lot of pressure on him."


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