Wednesday, November 01, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Senior Titans lead the way

Leader sports editor

Two contrasting personalities share one key attribute, competitiveness and a bond that has been forged by years of competition.

Jacksonville seniors Harderrious (HD) Martin and Shawn Ellis are going to be the key work mules for the Titan football team this year, but they’re not just teammates. They’re thick as thieves on and off the field. In separate interviews, they came up with the same word to describe the relationship.


As two of the best athletes in their age group growing up, the two became natural competitors. Ellis’ competitive nature comes more naturally, but it pulls something deep from within Martin that makes him better, even if he seems frustrated at times.

“He’s always trying to battle me,” Martin said of Ellis. “He’s always making everything a battle – literally everything. Who’s going to get to the field first? Who’s going put their shoes on first after practice? It’s just everything. That’s my brother, though. He don’t like to lose at all, but I don’t like to lose either, so he motivates me.”

Ellis is also motivated by Martin.

“It’s really like a childhood relationship,” said Ellis. “Growing up together, spending so much time together, might as well call him my brother. Everybody looked at us growing up as the only two that can compete with each other. So we were always competitive at everything. I’m always looking at him, seeing what he’s doing so I can try to do it better. That’s no grudge against him. It’s just motivation for me.”

Martin is a two-time All-State playerafter being thrust into the starting quarterback position as a sophomore when both of the other two quarterbacks went down with injury.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with him in the offensive backfield is Ellis, who made All-State last year. He is also a three year starter at running back and has seen some time at outside linebacker this year for a depth-challenged Titan team.

Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham regularly praises the 5-foot-10, 205 pound bruising back.

“He’s a hard-working kid that you’re going to get maximum effort out of every time,” Hickingbotham said of Ellis. “He realizes whatever it takes to make the team successful.”

Martin has also played a little bit of cornerback and a lot of safety this season, though he admits to preferring cornerback.

“I probably like offense better than defense, but only because on defense I’m playing safety,” Martin said. “I’m just back there chilling at safety. Corner is a lot more fun, but it takes a lot more energy.”

Martin has also split wide on offense instead of taking the snap. It’s a welcome change, he is being recruited as a wide receiver, and sees it as his most natural position.

“I love the idea of playing receiver,” Martin said. “That’s what I want to play, and that’s what (college scouts) say I am.”

Both players saw that last year’s Titan squad had a larger roster and more athletes, but both were right in predicting that this year’s team would out-perform the disappointing 2-8 season of last year. The Titans have already qualified for the Class 6A playoffs.

“I know we’re small, and we to have to play teams bigger than us,” Martin said. “I still felt like we can bounce back. I think we have more leadership this year. Last year everybody was kind of lazy. Some people were barely coming to practice. This year, there’s not too many that miss. Most people, most of the main ones, are here every day. And I don’t think anybody is fazed by playing the bigger schools or scared of anyone. I like playing on the big stage.”

Ellis, who has seven games with more than 100 yards rushing this season, had similar insights.

“Last year, we had more ability, but this year we have more hard-working people,” Ellis said. “Hard work beats lazy talent any day. This senior class right here, we try to bond everybody on the team. We try to talk and make it a family. So I think this team is playing together a lot better.”

Individually, both players have taken part in several college camps, hoping to earn scholarships and continue their playing careers. Both were invited to the Razorbacks’ game against Alcorn State in Little Rock last year and stood on the sidelines with the team, but neither has received an official offer.

They have gone to camps at Southern Arkansas University, Memphis University, Harding, Missouri Western, Arkansas Tech and UA-Monticello. Martin has always had elite speed, but not much chance to show what he can do at wide receiver.

Ellis ran a 4.7 40-yard dash the last time he was clocked but has been working hard on his strength and speed all offseason.

“I’m way stronger than last year working with coach Sloan, and he got me faster, too. I’ve been working on explosion drills, getting my footwork better. Coach Edmonds is helping me with stuff, too. I think the offers will start coming when I get myself out there more.”

Both players have some talents that perhaps aren’t as obvious as the ones displayed under the lights on Friday night. Martin likes to dance, although not necessarily to Ellis’ flute.

Ellis plays the flute for his grandfather, Herman Clark, of Newport.

“He taught me to play,” Ellis said. “He knows how to play everything. He lives in the country, and I love to go up there and go hunting with him and hang out with him. When I’m not with my brothers or girlfriend, I’m hanging with him.

“His favorite words when I’m playing for him is, just go with the flow. You hear me playing, just join in and make it sound good,” Ellis said.

Ellis also still keeps some advice he heard from his grandmother, Doris Balentine, long ago.

“Before every game, I like to eat pickles,” Ellis said. “My grandma used to say pickles make you stronger. So I follow her advice.”