Locker room guys are huge for team chemistry and building organizational morale. Coaches can get on their soapboxes and preach their philosophy but unless the players buy into this culture and live by these values the team won’t adapt. At Penn State, James Franklin has done a tremendous job with installing his four core values. Which includes, attitude, work ethic, compete, and sacrifice. Without the proper leadership, these are just words, not true values.
So, what Coach Franklin and his staff have done is selected the correct team captains to hold players accountable. These players from the 2022 team included QB Sean Clifford, DT PJ Mustipher, and S Ji’Ayir Brown all three players have moved onto their NFL careers which leaves Penn State with a gap in the leadership department.
This is where safety Keaton Ellis needs to step in and prove himself as a leader in 2023. Replacing Ji’Ayir Brown is going to be difficult enough, with his ball-hawking ability and versatility that he brought on the field. It was the unspoken intangibles that Brown brought to the team off the field that were just as important.
Ellis enters his senior year in 2023 and leadership is what comes with the territory of being a team veteran. It feels like yesterday that he was getting reps at cornerback during the 2019 season as a true freshman. Last season he started all 13 games at safety alongside Ji’Ayir Brown and stepped up his game. He accounted for 24 tackles and 7 pass breakups on the year. But the Nittany Lions need more from him outside of the stat line in 2023, they need him to be the on-field coach of the secondary.
Ellis will be tasked with alignment and calling out shifts on the field, while in the locker room, he will need to be a player that Coach Franklin can rely on as a leader. If someone isn’t doing the right thing off the field Ellis will have to have those difficult conversations with players to make sure everyone is maintaining the Penn State standard.