From the time Ellis Marder walked on the University of Connecticut campus, he was sold.
The Lake Highland Prep cornerback was in Storrs, Conn., for a football camp and the UConn coaching staff was equally impressed with Marder.
So two days after returning to Orlando, Marder called back to Storrs. He talked with defensive backs (safeties) coach Darrell Perkins, followed by new head coach Paul Pasqualoni, formerly of Syracuse. The Huskies wanted to offer, which was not a big surprise to Marder. Nor was his acceptance.
“I loved everything about the campus … everything,” Marder said Thursday night. “I’m very excited to get it over with, the whole process.”
And it has been a long process for Marder. He’s always been fast, athletic, agile, but size was never an attribute in the early stages.
We met up with Marder two years ago at the Jones High National Underclassman Combine. He was omewhat of a scrawny kid, just shy of 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds. He said he was a defensive back, returner, running back, but didn’t really take ownership of any one position. “Athlete,” he said.
That season, his sophomore year at Lake Highland, he managed a little playing time, but not enough to grab much attention on a 10-2 team with plenty of stars.
He worked hard in the offseason. Harder than most. Somewhat out of necessity but mostly out of sheer determination.
“Yeah, with my work ethic there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to have something like this,” Marder said Thursday. “I’ve worked too hard not to.”
He came into his junior year about seven pounds heavier and an inch taller, still not quite 6-foot tall. He was considered mostly to be a wide receiver. He had three catches.
There was something about him, though. Marder would show a dash of brilliance here and there, but the pattern was never cut from the same position. He had a two-touchdown, 115-yard rushing performance against Williston last year. A seven-tackle performance against Mulberry that included two fumble recoveries and an interception.
A defensive breakthrough. And just in time. Lake Highland needed corners and Marder was perfect. He finished the season playing mostly corner and in spring ball was told he’d be one of the Highlanders starting cornerbacks – and only a cornerback – for his senior year.
That seemed to drive Marder even more. He hit all the combines and camps that he could. He made the 2011 Central Florida all-star 7-on-7 squad. He was still training and lifting, keying on “high-end speed” with trainers like Lo Wood and Ricky Argro.
He’s gained speed. He grew. He gained muscle weight. His body has become more chiseled, more durable and has more stamina. He enters his senior season at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
“They like my size and speed, agility and athleticism,” Marder said. “They’re going to play me at corner but also try me at safety.”
“I didn’t think either of those schools were good fits for me like UConn,” Marder said. “I have a great relationship with them and I feel really connected. When I visited, Coach Perkins welcomed me with open arms and he took me on a three-hour tour before the camp started and it was really nice.”
Marder is the first of a crop of talented seniors at Lake Highland to commit to a college. OL Blake Fromang has more 15 offers, while DB-WR Ty Law has five offers, DB-WR Taylor Barton has four and WR Hayden Jones and LB David Jean are on the cusp of gaining their initial D I-A offers, as well.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com.