Former Shrine Bowl defensive tackle Jabari Ellis (Lake Marion High/Georgia Military College) announced his commitment to the 2018 recruiting class of South Carolina during a Tuesday morning news conference at The Times and Democrat.
As a 2015-16 senior at Lake Marion, the former Gators standout verbally committed to Appalachian State over Miami (Fla.) and others. But he later decided to attend Georgia Military and improve his play along with his grades.
On Tuesday morning, Ellis sat between his parents, Motento and Ruth Ellis, with more than 50 family members and friends in attendance. He pulled a black Gamecocks ball cap out of a red bag, announcing “I’m staying home and continuing my career at the University of South Carolina.”
Ellis is ranked by the 247Sports composite as the No. 14 overall JUCO prospect in the 2018 class. As a senior for the Gators, Ellis made 91 tackles, 20 sacks and seven tackles for loss.
As a freshman for Georgia Military this past fall, Ellis played in 11 games, made 14 tackles (including one sack) and had a pass breakup.
The 6-foot-2, 285-pounder had visited South Carolina and N.C. State in the last month and narrowed his decision to the two programs heading into his Independence Day announcement.
Miami, the leader in the recruiting process for Ellis throughout his senior year in high school, reached out and contacted him again in June. He told them thanks but he would be staying and playing somewhere in the Carolinas.
In the end, the choice was the first program offering him a scholarship during his time in junior college. The Gamecocks offered him in February, a few days before his birthday.
“Both schools are great programs, so it really came down to who I was comfortable with,” Ellis said. “At Carolina, I just felt the love there.
“I felt in my heart that is where I wanted to play.”
The former Gator standout will play his sophomore season for the Bulldogs of GMC before joining the Gamecocks program under head coach Will Muschamp. It was the near-daily contact from Muschamp and near-weekly messages from USC defensive line coach Lance Thompson that showed Ellis he would be wanted and needed in Columbia.
“The (Gamecocks) program is definitely on the rise and I feel like they are turning it around,” Ellis said. “It’s a great opportunity; in the SEC, you get to play against the best competition.
“I feel like I can come in and accomplish all my goals. I’m ready, I’m ready to come in and work. They (Muschamp and Thompson) told me, if I come in and handle my business, I'll have a chance to start.”
Although he has played defensive end, his natural position in high school and where the Gamecock coaching staff plans to play him is the defensive tackle slot. Muschamp and his coaches have told Ellis he will have a great opportunity to hit the ground running and possibly start in the 2018 season, which will be his junior year.
“With Coach Muschamp being a defensive coach, he is relentless, and you like that about a coach,” Ellis said. “Being close to home, that too, it played a part.”
Ellis had told Muschamp that the person recruiting him to play at South Carolina the hardest was his mom, Ruth.
“I just love my son and I’m so proud that he made the right decision,” Ruth Ellis said. “That’s where I wanted him to go, as long as he thought that was right.”
Ellis is glad he chose the juco route to improve his grades and playing technique after high school.
“Junior college is really a time for you to get right; you’re away from your family and everything,” Jabari Ellis said. “The juco process is hard, but Georgia Military is a different type of struggle. It's been a journey.
“You have to focus on yourself, make sure you are in your books, getting your grades. Football kind of takes care of itself. Now I feel like I'm more of a technician with my game, where in high school I was more of a bully, just getting it done with my physical ability.”
Former Lake Marion head football coach Chris Carter – now in that same position at Edisto High School – always knew Ellis would work to make himself a better student and a better football player.
"To watch this kid, from where Ellis started to where he is now, I'm just elated," Carter said Tuesday. "It's a tremendous accomplishment to get to this point.
"You feel for a kid having to go the juco route. But I told him, 'we all make our beds and we have to lie in them.' But he always knew hard work would get him a second chance. Jabari, to me, is still evolving and learning as a player. At Carolina, they will take him up another notch in that process."
Carter has been impressed with the transformation and maturity Ellis has experienced while at GMC.
"He told me that once he made his decision, based on the code of honor at Georgia Military, he would stick with his decision," Carter said. "That's a different Jabari Ellis, a more focused person, a more mature person.
"South Carolina is getting a top-notch kid."
USC opens the 2017 season against N.C. State at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Sept. 2 at 3 p.m. The winner of that game will be determined on the field, but the Gamecocks were winners on July 4th, snagging a commitment from a solid pass rusher in Ellis.
In 2015, Ellis was a key member of the first Lake Marion team to play in a lower state championship game. In 2018, he plans to help take the Gamecocks program to a new level.
"It's a blessing, making my decision now and moving on to focus on the coming season and the future," Ellis said.
As he was announcing, Ellis tweeted out an appreciative message to family and friends, mentioning "Holly Hill made me, Vance raised me."
Now Columbia and the rest of SEC Country will get to know Jabari Ellis in the coming years.