Reggie and Marquis Ellis nod together when reminded of what their father told them about trophies.
"Trophies collect dust," they recalled Reggie Ellis Sr. saying when the two boys were toddlers, long before they led the Franklin football team to a 10-2 record as seniors last fall. "Memories last forever."
The boys always received awards and accolades at the end of a sports season — from football to basketball to soccer to T-ball — while growing up, and another form of recognition came for the two brothers in February when each received an invitation to play for the Maryland team against Pennsylvania in Saturday's Big 33 Football Classic at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Reggie Ellis, the 5-foot-11 versatile athlete who had 1,818 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns for the Indians last fall. He called the invite an "honor," as did Marquis Ellis, his 6-foot-4 brother who had 552 receiving yards and eight touchdowns for Franklin as a senior.
The two brothers, who are both listed as wide receivers for the Maryland squad and will both play for Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia in the fall, said they
won't forget the cap of their high school careers, but more importantly, they'll remember how they got to this point.
They'll remember how playing sports was as natural as their bond that forged over time. They seamlessly became athletes, like their parents before them. Reggie Ellis Sr. played baseball at Coppin State, and his wife, Bonita Ellis, played basketball throughout high school.
"It was like a tradition," Bonita Ellis said. "It's all in the family, so I knew we couldn't go wrong."
And so the boys always played sports as children. Reggie was 7 years old and Marquis was 6 when they first played on the same football team.
"I knew the importance of sports," Reggie Ellis Sr. said. "The relationships you build, it shapes your character."
As a football assistant coach at St. Frances in 2009 when Reggie was a sophomore and Marquis was a freshman, Reggie Ellis Sr. worried about the future of the program after Panthers head coach Mike Clay left in the middle of the season. A year later, the brothers transferred to Franklin.
Reggie Ellis entered Franklin with the same class standing as Marquis, who is 15 months younger than him, because some of his sophomore academic credits didn't transfer from St. Frances.
"That first year at Franklin, it was crazy," Marquis Ellis said.
Together, the brothers went from being building blocks for a St. Frances program in its second year at the time of their departure to suddenly serving as role players for a Franklin team that lost in the Class 3A state championship game in 2010.
"Something about being the No. 2 option, it was hard for them," said Richard Reed, Franklin's athletic director and an assistant coach for the football team. "They were never the focal point at first, and we kept telling them to be patient, be patient."
To the brothers, he became known as "Uncle Reed," and to their parents, he became known as "a blessing."
"If we needed something…" Reggie Ellis started.
"…he had it," Marquis said, finishing his brother's sentence.
Marquis Ellis recalled a time when frustration mounted as the brothers transitioned to the new school. He went to Reed's office, and the athletic director shared with him a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
"They're high schoolers. High school's never easy for anybody," Reed said. "I wanted to make sure they felt at home."
More than anything, the brothers leaned on each other.
"If Reggie made a bad play, Marquis was there to pick him up. If Marquis made a bad play, Reggie was there to pick him up," Franklin offensive coordinator Ryan Hain said.
The way it was on the field was the way it had been in the household.
"We're family, we stick together," Reggie Ellis Sr. said. "When things are going rough, it's rough for everybody. When things are prospering, it's good for everybody."
Their time in the spotlight indeed came during their senior year at Franklin, and they served as examples on the team.
"They allowed our younger players to really learn from them and [see] what it takes to be a high-level football player," Franklin head coach Anthony Burgos said. "All around, they've been a tremendous asset to the program."
When they began visiting colleges, the brothers started wondering what life would be like if they were separated.
"The whole time, I'm thinking, well, my parents have to decide what game to go to," Reggie Ellis said about the possibility of playing for separate colleges. "What if I played here, and I want my brother to come see me play?"
Eventually, when one brother was called out of class to meet with a college coach, the other was as well.
"We told the coaches, 'It's either you get both of us, or you don't get one of us at all,' " Reggie Ellis said.
Burgos said the brothers could leave Shepherd with the same influence they left at Franklin.
"Those two right there, I think they're gonna be a great asset to Shepherd," he said. "I think they're higher-level players than Shepherd, but that's just where they are."
Asked about their future at Shepherd, they look at each other, knowing they've made it together before.
"I just look at it like it happened for a reason," Marquis Ellis said.
2013 Big 33 Classic
Time: 7:06 p.m.
Where: Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, Pa.
TV: NFL Network
Tickets: $5, $10, $18
More information: Big33.org
Maryland vs. Pennsylvania in Big 33 Classic
1985: Pennsylvania 17, Maryland 14
1986: Pennsylvania 21, Maryland 7
1987: Maryland 26, Pennsylvania 22
1988: Pennsylvania 21, Maryland 13*
1989: Pennsylvania 29, Maryland 19
1990: Pennsylvania 42, Maryland 28
1991: Maryland 17, Pennsylvania 9
1992: Pennsylvania 38, Maryland 0
* Game stopped at halftime due to thunderstormsCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun