TUCSON, Ariz. – The moment he heard it pop, Georgia State senior quarterback Dan Ellington knew exactly what had happened to his right knee. He also knew that, if he had his way, he was going to power through it.
Ellington has started the past two seasons under center for Georgia State (7-5). Following a 2-10 campaign in 2018, Ellington has led the Panthers to the school’s third bowl game. His play (21 touchdown passes, 598 yards rushing) has been a big reason for the team’s turnaround.
But against Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 9, Ellington went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He knew immediately what had just occurred. For most, it would be nearly immediate surgery and a year of rehab. For Ellington? That all would wait. Georgia State had games to play.
“I knew I was going to finish the season out the game I got hurt,” Ellington said. “I just had to see how I was moving.”
Ellington came out to practice the Monday after the injury and was able to walk on it. He approached coach Shawn Elliott about potentially playing on it: Elliott signed off on him trying to practice. That Friday, coaches made the decision to start Ellington, less than a week after suffering the injury. Since then, he has been getting treatment on the knee up to five times a day, in addition to normal practices and, of course, school.
When teammates saw Ellington walk onto the field for practice, they were somewhat stunned. But as senior running back Tra Barnett said, nothing ever really surprises them anymore when it comes to the man under center. He will do whatever it takes to help Georgia State win.
“He is a warrior,” Barnett said. “I’m not shocked at all … if it was anybody else, I’d be shocked …. I know he is a competitor.”
Ellington plans on having surgery on the knee in January following an all-star game in Texas. He said his knee is feeling much better and expects to be at “70 or 80%” come game day. He has told coaches not to worry about play calls putting him in danger, though he is aware he hasn’t been able to do some of the things running the ball that he was able to do earlier in the season.
For him, being on the field with his brothers is the only thing that matters.
“I just want (my teammates) to know that I put them first before everything other than God and family,” Ellington said. “I love football so much. I don’t think I’d know what I would do without it.”
The 2019 season has been an eventful one for Georgia State. It started with a 38-30 upset over Tennessee in Knoxville, a moment Barnett and Ellington both said they would never forget. Seeing a sea of more than 100,000 fans clad in orange and white be silenced was otherworldly.
“It was kind of surreal,” said Barnett, who leads Georgia State with 1,389 rushing yards. “We knew we could beat them. When the clock hit zero, our fans screaming … it was a great feeling, a feeling that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
For a program that has only been playing games since 2010, the strides Georgia State has made are staggering. Ellington and Barnett have certainly played their parts in the story of Panthers football. What Ellington is doing by playing on his injured knee is worthy of a chapter in itself.
Opposing coaches have come up to Ellington and commended him on playing through what would easily be a season-ending injury for most, the quarterback said. Count UW head coach Craig Bohl among those impressed with Ellington’s grit.
“The fact that he is out there playing the game with an ACL tear gives you an indication how important it is to him,” Bohl said.