It’s hard for Maryland fans to think of former offensive lineman Ellis McKennie in any way other than a positive light as the fifth-year senior proved himself as an integral piece along the offensive line. The Pennsylvania native capped off his career with thirteen starts in 30 games as he became the first offensive lineman since 1997 to start at four different positions (right guard, center, left tackle and right tackle) as a senior.
Then-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley recruited the guard prospect coming out of McDonogh as the Terps stayed on top of the local lineman to edge out verbal offers from Marshall and Rutgers. In an interview with McKennie and Shell-n-Tell, the opportunities for life after football were second to none at Maryland and with the consistency from the staff, the decision was a no-brainer.
“My mom was a Penn State grad so they were always in the picture. I committed there super early, didn’t particularly enjoy my visit to Penn State, took a visit to Virginia Tech, I liked Virginia Tech, it was kind of out of the way. But Maryland had been the first school to offer me, had been the school that was on me the entire time, it was so close to home, I gone to a ton of visits there when they beat Virginia and stormed the court at the basketball game, I was there at all the football games my senior year of high school. It was just the right fit for me at the time and I knew what I wanted to do outside of football and nowhere could offer the type of opportunities that Maryland offered, so it was almost a no-brainer when I committed. It checked every box for me.”
The ensuing five years were turbulent for McKennie and his teammates as they battled through three different head coaches, while the program dealt with the tragic loss of Jordan McNair. It wasn’t an easy time to come through Maryland, but for McKennie, he knows his time in College Park has made him unbreakable moving forward in life.
“I think I’m honestly prepared for life after football now. Nothing is going to shock me in the world and in my professional experience. When you’re playing college football, especially at the level we are, it is your whole life while you’re there. It controls everything you’re doing and that change of head coach is super important, it’s literally how your life is structured, so having a lack of consistency, it makes you grow into the man you want to be because now, you have to commit to consistency for yourself. You have to make sure you can stay on track and you can stay focused, regardless of what else is going on, regardless of the steady support system you may have or what’s going on. It’s not what I would’ve wanted, but it’s prepared us for life after football now where we can adjust to the changing elements of our world.”
McKennie’s third and final head coach came when Locksley returned to the helm heading into his senior. The two enjoyed a strong foundation for their relationship, but Locksley was quick to show why he was the man for the job.
“Coach Locks can relate to us, is one of the big things. He knows what it’s like to be from this area, to represent Maryland, represent us on three different occasions now. When you feel that, you kind of have a different level of respect for someone that’s been there, who understands what you’re going through. Not just as a player, but as a man growing up. It’s also the way he’s built these relationships as well. Under previous coaches, I had a coach for two and a half years—didn’t have his phone number and I’ve never been to his house. I was in coach Locks house two weeks after he was hired with the rest of the team having a barbeque.”
The understanding that relationships help strengthen the foundation of the program made McKennie realize why Locksley remains the man for the job as the two still keep in touch. “Coach Locks probably Facetimes me two, three times a month now and I’m not on the team anymore, keeping and cultivating that relationship. He’s the type of guy that understands the importance of these individual relationships on the team, and so, I think it’s that along with his recruiting prowess—he convinced me to come to Maryland. He’s obviously pretty good at it.”
After earning his undergraduate degree in government and politics, McKennie plans to enroll in law school at George Washington this fall as he embarks on his career in politics.
“We were always very engaged growing up. I took an AP Government class my senior year of high school, that kind of reinforced what I already knew about myself, that I was interested in politics, interested in making a change, speaking up for others, things like that. Got my undergrad in government and politics at Maryland, finished my master’s in public policy this year and so, like I talked about earlier, I knew when I went to Maryland the opportunities that can be offered in that area so I made sure to take advantage of those opportunities while I was there. I worked for a campaign in Baltimore for a man running for governor in 2018 and then that same summer, I started as an intern my first year with Senator Cardin at his Baltimore office and then this past summer, I worked at his office in Capitol Hill office in DC and those are experiences, like I said, you wouldn’t get anywhere else. More importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to be the type of leader and captain for my team if I had played for another school. There are stories about guys that go to Stanford and get a summer internship at Capitol Hill, but then take the summer away from their team which is the most important preseason aspect of being a football player. So being able to be there for our 6 AM morning workouts, just to hop on the metro and go down to DC and get this incredible experience I wouldn’t get anywhere else was worth every bit of coming to Maryland. I do have ambitions for running for office at some point in time, that is my goal. I want to be able to represent a community, represent constituents and make policy. Hopefully, that’s something that’s in my future.”
More from McKennie:
Remembering Jordan McNair and turning emotion into action: “To start, you appreciate every moment, you appreciate everyone you’re with. That’s something that’s really simple. I cherish this last season with all my teammates knowing the next time I was in the locker room or get to spend time with them. It was something I made sure to tell all of them how much I care about them. I think it’s something about being an athlete and using your voice to speak up for yourself, speak up for your teammates was something that I really learned. It was something that, you have more support than you know about. You have people who watch you that you don’t even know, people in your university, in your community who are looking out for your interest even when you don’t think you don’t have anyone supporting you, especially when we had such a tough time. We didn’t know what was going on. I think it’s important, I’m glad there’s the work of the Jordan McNair Foundation, working with student-athletes to find their voice and to be able to understand we’re focused on the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, but to understand as a student-athlete, you do have a voice, you do have an opportunity to speak up for yourself and your body and give your input on what’s going on.”
On Lance Legendre: “Lance is electric. His athletic ability is unbelievable, he’s got a cannon for an arm and he can run, so he’s another guy who is still figuring out how to be a college athlete on and off the field. He’s got to make sure he knows how to do meetings, he keeps focusing on school and the playbook and once he gets all that figured out and all he has to focus on is football, he’ll be ready to burst. I’m really excited for that quarterback room, competition is all you can ask for.”
On DJ Moore and Darnell Savage: “We joke any time we talk to each other, there needs to be a 30 for 30 on that group. We had all these NFL players and probably won less than 20 games, so we don’t know how that happened. DJ was a stud the moment he walked on campus, he carried himself like that too and he knew what type of player he was but he worked for everything he did. We were in an Uber, it was me, him and Darnell [Savage] were in the car. The Uber driver, any time you get in the car, they’re like ‘oh you guys play on the football team, blah blah, are you going to the NFL? And this was after our sophomore year, I said yeah DJ is probably going to the NFL. Darnell looks at me and goes ‘I’m going too,’ and I was like ‘uh huh.’ Look at him now, first round pick two days later.”
On returning for games: “I will be that loud fan in the stands every game since I’m only in DC. I will be there for every home game, I can guarantee that. I love the University of Maryland, I love my classmates, my teammates, just the spirit of the school. I was at every home basketball game since I’ve been there. I’ll be around, that’s for sure.”