The sound of shoulder pads crashing together is universal in the college football world. It represents competition, hard work, dedication, and for a small Southeastern corner of Louisiana, it symbolizes the change in seasons. The first sound of shoulder pads may as well broadcast through a bull horn to the locals. It’s as if the 20,000 plus people in the town of Hammond, Louisiana, have a sixth sense for the start of football season. They care about their team and players with undeniable passion. In fact, locals of all ages perk up every fall for a chance to cheer for their Southeastern Louisiana Lions; a team relatively obscured from the view of the nation.
It has become easy for casual fans to overlook smaller universities like SLU, despite the growing number of small-school players being drafted by the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons became familiar with the talent in Southeastern Louisiana when scouts were sent to look at a young, standout cornerback named Robert Alford. Those scouts came away so impressed that Atlanta spent its 2nd round draft pick on him. While Alford’s loss is clearly a blow to Ron Robert’s SLU defense, there are several hungry young players hoping to step up and fill the void. Perhaps the most intriguing of these players is #3, Tommy Elliott.
Tommy Elliott Jr. was born in Compton, California, a city better known for its murder rate than its academics. Although the “Hub City” has seen a noticeable dip in violent crime over the past decade, it is still one of the murder capitols of California and a notoriously difficult place for young people to grow up. Speaking with Elliott, however, you would never know it.
A charismatic and well-spoken young man, Tommy Elliott exudes confidence in every aspect of his life. Whether speaking fondly of his mother Shavon and Auntie Brooke, or bragging about his three siblings and their equestrian prowess (the entire family ride horses competitively in some capacity, a trait they inherited from their grandfather), Elliott never misses a beat. When asked of Elliott’s weaknesses on the field, he was quick to rattle off a number of areas he had been working on throughout the offseason.
“I want to have quicker feet,” he said. “I want to be more aggressive in press coverage too; recognizing routes and being more decisive with my breaks.”
It’s clear that despite his already impressive skillset, Tommy Elliott is not willing to settle on his God-given talent alone. As a red-shirt Junior, he recognizes the amazing opportunity laid before him and he refuses to allow it to slip away. His willingness to learn and adapt as well as his team-first attitude was apparent throughout our conversation.
“I’m open to playing any position on the field,” he said as he began listing a few of the different positions he had played throughout his young career: everything from wide receiver to corner, as well as return man on punts and kickoffs. Though he had moderate success all over the field, he quickly realized that his greatest contributions came from the corner position. This is where he could make his greatest impact; and this is where he now calls home.
“I love Cover-2,” Elliott said, referring to the popular form of zone coverage. “I don’t think anybody can get anything on me in Cover-2.”
Elliott’s confidence may be well deserved too. He lined up against future NFL talent long before his arrival at SLU, while playing football for perennial powerhouse Long Beach Jordan High School in Southern California. He recalled playing against Matt Barkley (future 4th round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles) back when he was the star quarterback at Mater Dei High School.
“He only got like two short passes on me that game,” Elliott remembered. An impressive feat considering Barkley was already being touted as the next big thing in football. Excitement radiates from Elliott’s voice when he speaks of competition. His competitive drive bleeds from his every word and seems to magnify at the thought of matching up against some of the best athletes in the world.
Elliott attended Cerrios Junior College after high school. He spent the 2009 season building momentum and appearing in spot duty. He played well finishing the year with 21 tackles and had high expectations for the 2010 season before an injury stopped him short. He was forced to redshirt before the year really got started. It was an early crossroad in Elliott’s career.
After a year on the sideline, Tommy Elliott returned to football in 2011 posting career numbers for Cerrios Junior College. He posted 50 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and even added a fumble recovery. At the end of the year, he was named Second Team All-Northern Conference and proved to himself and his coaches that he was capable of an upgrade in competition.
Flash forward to today, and Tommy Elliott is looking to be a major contributor for an SLU team whose win total in Ron Roberts first season as head coach, matched that of the previous two years combined. The Lions appear to be on the upswing and their players are already circling dates on the schedule.
“At TCU on September 7th. That’s one where we can make a name for ourselves,” Elliott said. He paused momentarily as if pondering the magnitude of their upcoming encounter, then recited several more as if they were burned into his memory.
“St. F Austin on October 12th, they pass (the ball) often. Central Arkansas. Sam Houston State, they’re an option team. Should give us an opportunity to make some tackles, be aggressive.” He seemed genuinely excited by the idea. When reminded of the fact that many NFL teams are deploying multiple option-style attacks, he credited his defensive coordinator with his improved reaction skills in the run game stating, “I can pull the trigger on the run, it’s getting easier.”
Tommy Elliott Jr. has all of the tools of a successful defensive back. He has experienced success at multiple levels and looks to continue his progress at SLU. He fully understands how much work is still left to take the next step, but he seems ready to embrace the challenge. In many ways, he is already living the dream of every kid who has ever donned a Pop Warner jersey or laced up cleats; but he remains grounded through the values of his youth, and the community that kept him on the right path.
“Tommy,” his Pop Warner Coach Donald Dozier always told him, “I give you all the knowledge I know, so that it will help you in the long run. I’ve been there and done that and I want you to excel at being a great student, athlete, and man.” Words that have traveled with Elliott throughout his journey and clearly made a strong enough impact on him that he can recite them by heart. His admiration for the man he once called Coach is apparent in his tone. While he no longer coaches Pop Warner, Dozier continues to be a positive influence in Elliott’s life to this day, encouraging him to follow his dream of one day playing in the NFL.
Perhaps Compton, California, is one of the most violent communities on the West Coast, but it’s clear that there are still people who care. People who are willing to sacrifice their time and efforts for the greater good; for the success of a young student athlete. A young man who does not take those gifts or that responsibility lightly. The crack of the pads in Southeastern Louisiana may symbolize the start of a new season for the residents of Hammond, Louisiana but for Tommy Elliott, it’s the sound of another opportunity.