Grapeland’s Ellington Off To Henderson State University 

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – The Sandies football team, coaches and a packed gym joined Justin Ellington and family for cake and fun as he signed his papers for a full scholarship to study and play football at Henderson State University in Southern Arkansas. 

The signing ceremony was held Wednesday, Feb. 7 at the Grapeland Independent School District (GISD) high school gym, where Ellington was center stage, posing for pictures with friends, family and coaches. 

Henderson State is located in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, just about four hours from Grapeland and home to some 3,000 students. Ellington, who has played football since seventh grade, impressed the coaches as much with his skills as his passion for the game. 

Ellington said he will miss his family and his little brother who is a junior, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play in a bigger league. 

“I really like going like places and traveling and Henderson has been loyal to me through my whole recruitment process, even though I had an injury this year,” Ellington said. “So, I stay loyal to them and I’m happy to play there. I know it’s a place that’s going to push me, but I’ve never been scared of hard work!”

As luck would have it, Henderson’s Head Coach Scott Maxfield, who has been at the helm for 18 years, found out about Ellington through a mutual friend – GISD Athletic Director and Head Coach Jordan Wood. 

“I actually played for Coach Maxfield,” Wood said. “When Ellington started, he wasn’t the best, honestly. Usually, when you coach a kid hard in high school, they give up. But the harder I coached him, the better he got. That’s why I was confident in calling Maxfield to have a look at him.”

Wood said it was this “never quit” attitude that impressed him the most about Ellington. 

“Ellington is a tough kid. I tell him what we need and he responds and keeps getting better,” Wood said. “He doesn’t wear his feelings on his shoulder. He doesn’t get upset about much. He proves you wrong. He just keeps working until he’s right and you’re wrong!”

Wood pointed out it takes toughness to go to the college level as a lineman, since coaches want a whole package. While a talented runner, kicker or passer may get started early in their careers, lineman have to work up to it and earn it, and Ellington has proven he has that patience to put in the hard work to improve over time. 

The process was fast, with Henderson coaches impressed just from watching film and hearing Coach Wood’s praise, working to sign Ellington on his first visit. 

In the second game of the season, Ellington was injured, laying low for a couple of days. Telling his mom, like it or not, this wouldn’t hold him back and he would be playing in the next game. 

Ellington has been a jack of all trades for the Sandies, filling gaps in the line, whenever and wherever needed. He refers to himself as the Sandies’ ‘Swiss Army Knife.”

Looking to major in Health and Human Performances, with an emphasis on strength conditioning, Ellington hopes to finish school and coach, finding and developing future greats like himself. 

A Grapeland native, Ellington acknowledges he will miss his friends, but knows it’s time to branch out and try new things. Asked what he will take from this Sandies football program, Ellington gave a one-word answer.

“Work,” Ellington laughed. “I have done nothing but work, ever since my freshman year. I wasn’t the best athlete, but I’ve worked hard. And that’s what it means to be a Sandie – fighting through adversity and working hard.”

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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