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College football

Locals hit stride with Irish

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published October 7, 2004

Notre Dame defensive back Dwight Ellick has offered the following unsolicited advice to his coaches:

"If you want cornerbacks," he said, "go to Tampa."

Ellick should know. The Wharton graduate is a starter at cornerback for the Fighting Irish, and one of two Notre Dame defensive backs who call Tampa home. The other is starting cornerback Preston Jackson, a former Hillsborough star.

For an Irish defense that typically is pretty tough, Ellick and Jackson, both seniors, have been important figures, especially this fall. Ellick has two of Notre Dame's six interceptions. Jackson has one. In tackles, Ellick ranks sixth on the squad and Jackson is seventh. Between them, they've added four pass breakups, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.

Both players have their eyes on the NFL.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," Ellick said. "I definitely think I've got a shot but you never know until that day comes."

Becoming a full-time starter was a challenging road for both. Each was a star in high school (Ellick was a state sprint champion; Jackson earned accolades in football and hoops), but success at the next level took time. After seeing limited playing opportunities early on, both began making significant contributions by their sophomore years. Ellick and Jackson each started six games last fall then became regulars this season for the Irish (3-2), who host Stanford on Saturday.

"I'm a lot better now than when I got here," Ellick said. "I wasn't physically ready. It's funny to look at tape from back then. I just say, "Oh, God, I can't believe I was that bad.' I got stronger, more consistent and a lot more sound in technique. I learned how to play."

The two have a bond that extends beyond the field, as Jackson and Ellick have become close friends. Whether in South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame is located, or back in Tampa, they talk often and regularly do things together.

"We've always been pretty tight," Jackson said. "It's been great having him here."

Playing for the Irish, each said, has been like a dream.

"It's fun because you're always everybody's biggest rival, everybody's biggest game," Jackson said. "It's kind of like when I was at Hillsborough."

Ellick went a step further.

"I don't think people realize how good it is to be here," he said. "You'll just be on the streets and you'll tell people you go to Notre Dame, and people will want to shake my hand just because I'm a Notre Dame football player. It's definitely a great thing."

[Last modified October 7, 2004, 00:30:24]


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