Henry Ellard, Fresno State's probable All-America split end and world-class triple jumper, was asked last week to name the most spectacular play of his football career. "It happened two years ago," he said. "It was the first game in our new stadium. I had broken my finger in practice, but I wanted to play and they taped it up. We ran a quick five-yard slant over the middle. The defender was there. I must have closed my eyes for a second, because boom, boom, boom, I ran by him, broke something like five tackles and sprinted down the sidelines for a 60-yard touchdown, hollering all the way. It was really exciting."
You'd think a play like that would stick out in everyone's mind, but when you discuss Ellard, the "most memorable" moments are so numerous that you end up with a catalog rather than an answer. Jeff Tedford. quarterback of the 10-1 Bulldogs, who as PCAA champions will be the host team in the second California Bowl against Bowling Green on Dec. 18, mentions Fresno State's Sept. 11 26-6 win over Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, in which Ellard leaped higher than several defenders, caught a pass and ran untouched to score a 38-yard TD. Coach Jim Sweeney cites a reception six weeks later. "He got hit on the sidelines by one of the best corners in college football—Gill Byrd of San Jose State—on a 10-yard out," says Sweeney. "But Henry just bounced off him and went another 29 yards for a touchdown."
Ellard's receiving is such that NCAA officials have been scrambling around in search of a new statistical category for him. Until University of Nevada, Las Vegas "held" Ellard to seven catches for 106 yards and no TDs in Saturday's regular-season finale, a 30-28 Fresno State win, Ellard had scored in his last eight games. He had also racked up 100-yard performances in 10 of his last 15 games and had three 200-plus outings in his last five games. This season, playing with a dislocated middle finger on his right hand since the second game. Ellard is fourth among major-college receivers in catches (62) and leads the nation in total yardage (1,510), TDs (15) and average yards per catch (24.4). The total yardage and touchdown stats rank among the best ever, but the yards-per-catch total is catchier still. "A few players have averaged more, but on significantly fewer catches," says Steve Boda, associate director of statistics for the NCAA—Elmo Wright of Houston, for one. averaged 27.9 yards on 43 receptions in 1968. "We're going to say that Henry holds the single-season record for 55 or more catches," says Boda, even though he calculates that Ellard would hold the record for anywhere from 50 catches on up.
An NFL team is going to say that Ellard deserves to be drafted on the first round, his size (5' 10½", 175 pounds) notwithstanding. "Our scouts feel that except for that fellow at Stanford [Quarterback John Elway], Ellard might be the best football player on the West Coast," says Pete Brown, director of player personnel for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Like Renaldo Nehemiah, the hurdler-turned-49er, and Herschel Walker, Georgia's spectacular tailback-sprinter. Ellard has benefited from mixing football and track. Last season he placed seventh in the triple jump at the NCAAs, and in one dual meet last spring had a wind-aided 56'6½"—at the time the world's best effort of the year.
"The triple is probably the most complicated of the jumping events," says Bob Fraley, Fresno State's assistant track and field coach in charge of sprinters and jumpers. "You have to coordinate horizontal and vertical velocity with the rhythm of your body. We work especially hard with Henry on staying vertical." The application to football is obvious. "More than anything," says Ellard, "triple jumping has helped my balance." Sweeney, a former assistant coach for the NFL Raiders and Cardinals, has built balance into his pro-style, pass-oriented offense so that opposing defenses can't key exclusively on Ellard. Despite his remarkable yards-per-reception average, Ellard is not just a fly-pattern specialist; he frequently goes into heavy traffic over the middle and is called on for reverses—100 yards and a TD on eight carries this year. Moreover. Tedford is the tenth leading passer in the country, having completed 153 of 298 this season, and the Bulldogs have another deep threat in Flanker Stephone Paige, who has averaged 21.1 yards on 33 catches this season.
Even when he is not homing in on a Tedford pass, Ellard cuts quite a figure. He has an earring in his left ear and protects his Jeri-curl hairdo with a plastic bag when practicing (teammates call him the Man from Glad). He also has gained a somewhat undeserved reputation as a showboat. Montana State fans certainly pegged him that way in Fresno State's 45-14 defeat of the Bobcats two weeks ago when he began running parallel to the goal line—not over it—after beating the defenders. Actually, Ellard had a pact with his linemen that, circumstances permitting, he would lateral the ball to one of them for the score. Unfortunately, the "big Montana cats," as Ellard calls them, got to him faster than his teammates did, and he had to step into the end zone.
A hot dog? Ellard, a Fresno native who spent his first semester at the school living in a dorm, has stayed at home with his mother and stepfather ever since. "Too much wall-banging in the dorm," he says. Flamboyant? He drives a 10-year-old Ford. Take him to dinner and he'll order a club sandwich and hot chocolate. To be sure, a wider world looms ahead: pro football and more track competition, possibly even the 1984 Olympics. In the meantime, Ellard counsels juvenile delinquents as he works toward a degree in criminology.
"He's like a Pied Piper with kids," says Track Coach Red Estes. "He'll walk onto a playground and won't be able to move. Kids will be hanging all over him."
Defensive backs should be so lucky.