Morgan Ellison doesn’t need to see it. He just needs to know he has it.
That’s what the 6-foot-1 sophomore running back from Pickerington, Ohio, said about one of his most recent purchases — approximately two acres of land on the planet Mars.
After Ellison and his father, Mitchell, watched an episode about the racial wealth gap on the Netflix docuseries, Explained, they had a discussion about how owning land was a good way of sustaining wealth.
Shortly after that, Ellison heard people could actually buy land on Mars for fairly cheap, so he decided investing in a little intergalactic real estate could be a way of building some of that “generational wealth.”
A sly grin crosses Ellison’s face when he talks about it, but his face is also full of seriousness and confidence.
Whether he’s able to see that land one day or not, it’s something he can always say is his.
“My kids, grandkids or their kids might need some land one day, so just know we’re good on Mars,” Ellison said. “I don’t need to see it as long as I’ve got it. I know I’ve got it. It’s in my name, two or three acres, I’m happy.”
Similarly, Ellison didn't always need to see his opportunities develop on the field for him to be able to make big plays for the Hoosiers last season.
Even during a season in which IU's offensive line struggled at times to create holes for the team's running game, Ellison impressed many during his first year in Bloomington. In 2017 as a true freshman, he was named the Hoosiers' offensive newcomer of the year after rushing for a team-high 704 yards and six touchdowns on 143 attempts, while also being named a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week after big performances against Georgia Southern and Rutgers.
Ellison's inaugural season came in the midst of an overall disappointing rushing campaign for IU, as the Hoosiers ranked 12th in the Big Ten in both total rushing yards and rushing yards per game, and tied for last in the conference in rushing touchdowns.
However, with nearly everybody returning on the offensive line from last season, IU Coach Tom Allen said he wants to make running the ball more of an emphasis in 2018, which could lead to big things for Ellison and his fellow running backs.
"To me, step one was getting that offensive line at a point where you knew they needed to be in terms of setting the tone for our offense," Allen said. "Then number two, we've got all three running backs back that led us last year in rushing."
Even after having one of the more impressive seasons out of all of IU's running backs last year, Ellison will still need to earn his spot at the top of the backfield depth chart. With key returners such as sophomore Cole Gest and seniors Mike Majette and Ricky Brookins, as well as an exciting young newcomer in freshman Ronnie Walker Jr., Ellison said he knows nothing is guaranteed.
“I think everybody’s goal is to be ‘the guy,’” Ellison said. “But with football in the Big Ten, you’re going to need all your running backs. You’re going to need four or five guys ready to roll. We’ve got people that are better at blocking, or people that are better at running or people that are better at catching. But the main goal is to be the main guy and do what I have to do to help the team win.”
One thing Ellison said he has focused on improving during the offseason is his speed. With new Director of Athletic Performance David Ballou and Dr. Matt Rhea now overseeing the team in the weight room, Ellison said he's been able to address his need for speed much more than in the past with a healthy regimen of slopes, speed squats, power squats and more.
“Speed was a big thing I was trying to improve on,” Ellison said. “Dr. Rhea and Coach Ballou just focus on us. They don’t just say one thing can fix everybody because that’s what you can’t do. They came here and saw what we were missing as a player and they focus just on that.”
IU running backs coach and newly appointed assistant head coach Mike Hart said he's seen plenty of improvement in some of the intangibles Ellison needed to work on to take the next major step as one of the team's top running backs.
“He’s gotten faster and his body looks better this offseason,” Hart said. “The biggest thing is it needs to translate to on the field and during the spring, it did. I hope he gets even faster after having another eight weeks to work out this summer. It’s going to be exciting to see what he has.”
No matter the situation, Ellison has made it clear it doesn't take much for him to have confidence. Whether it's a small opening after receiving a handoff on the football field or a patch of uninhabited land on Mars, just knowing it's there is more than enough for him.
However, with a year of experience under his belt and now with a veteran offensive line leading the way, he might be able to see those opportunities a bit more clearly, at least on this planet.
“My dad always says to just get comfortable and play football,” Ellison said. “I think it’s just about letting the game come to me and I think I’ll be just fine.”
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