Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ellis Dreams of Entrepreneurship, NFL legacy

Former linebacker Brooks Ellis (#51) walks off the field after a game against Alcorn State on Oct. 1.

April 18, 2017
By Elise Parker

Brooks Ellis, a six-foot-two-inch linebacker, knelt between two cones in preparation for the 40-yard dash. He looks down the line at the scouts, their thumbs ready to press start on the timers. He takes a deep breath and sprints down the field.

Ellis was one of 17 former Razorback football players who showcased their talents to 30 NFL teams on Pro Day on March 15.

“The NFL has always been a dream of mine,” Ellis said. “It’s every young football player’s dream to make it to the big time. That’s what all of the hard work, early mornings and commitment has come to. This moment.”

His brother, Andrew, wore a Big Rock T-shirt in support of his All-American older sibling’s company.

Life on the Field

Ellis, 22, is a Fayetteville native. He played football at Fayetteville High School and was the student body treasurer. He led the Bulldogs to two state championships and was named Defensive Player of the Year both years.

As a recruit, he was ranked No. 4 in Arkansas and the No. 24 linebacker in the country. After multiple offers, he followed in the steps of his grandfather, David Lashley, who played offensive and defensive line at Arkansas in the 1950s.

“I looked around at a few places but I knew I was going here,” Ellis said. “My family is here and I grew up watching the Hogs, so it wasn’t too hard of a decision.”

During his career at the UofA, Ellis played in 49 games with 41 starts. He led the team in tackles nine times and was the only student-athlete from the Southeastern Conference to be selected to the Academic All-America first team in 2016.

Ellis received an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the National Football Foundation (NFF) National Scholar-Athlete Class in New York City at the 59th NFF Annual Awards Dinner, making him the fourth Arkansas football player to get this award since 1978.

He graduated from the UofA in December 2016 with a degree in kinesiology and a minor in biology.

The Company

In summer 2016, Ellis and his friends were hiking at Devil’s Den State Park in Winslow. They stumbled upon an oddly shaped rock while they were walking, which sparked the idea for the company.

“I don’t remember exactly what he said, but one of my buddies goes, ‘Whoa, that’s a big rock’ and we immediately thought it would be a good name for a company,” Ellis said. “We have always wanted to start a T-shirt business, and finding this rock was the beginning.”

Ellis and four of his closest friends created Big Rock Clothing Company (BRCO). The five young investors are former teammates at Arkansas, and used their own money to buy the first 50 T-shirts.

Their business motto is simple: Be comfortable. Live in the moment.

“We wanted to create a company that was comparable to Fayettechill, while being affordable for students,” said Alex Brignoni, Ellis’ childhood best friend and part owner. “Our shirts are for people who love being outdoors and having fun, because that’s what we love to do.”

Big Rock mainly sells its T-shirts via social media.

“Until we decide that we want to create a website, right now we just sell our shirts through direct message on Instagram,” said Matt Dodson, self-proclaimed sales director for Big Rock. “It’s easy and convenient for our customers and is working well since we are still a start-up.”

Ellis said his favorite part about this experience has been bonding with his friends and learning something new everyday.

“As a kinesiology major, I know nothing about business,” Ellis said. “Through my buddies I have learned a lot about running a company, and trust me it’s not easy.”

He said the group often disagrees about designs.

“Running a company is just like football in a way,” Ellis said. “First and foremost we are a team, and I will always do what’s best for the team, even if I don’t agree. We have been teammates for almost three years, and that comes in handy when working together on a day-to-day basis and making decisions.”

The Future

Aside from running the company, the group loves to throw the football around. They said they are Ellis’ biggest fans.
“I am so proud of Brooks,” Brignoni said. “I wish I was as good of a player as he is. If he makes it big, he better take me with him.”

Ellis said he hopes to make it to the NFL and get drafted this April. His friends and teammates have served as a major support system.

Ellis’ mother, Shelley, has attended every game of his career, and said she is excited for this opportunity for her son.

“It has been a long and stressful process,” Shelley said. “I am so proud of Ellis and everything he has accomplished. He has an amazing work ethic, but I am ready for this process to be over and for him to be in the NFL.”

Ellis attended the 2017 NFL Combine where he was a top performer in the three-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle.

He still lives in Fayetteville and devotes most of his time training with the Arkansas strength and conditioning coach, Ben Herbert, alongside the other Razorback potential draftees.

“I’m excited and anxious for the future,” Ellis said. “I am so thankful to have spent my college years playing at Arkansas with my brothers, and have learned so much and grown as a player, but now it’s time for the next adventure.”

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