Game Day

Elliott returns to City of Roses with brother’s memory on his mind

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Make no mistake about it.  Elijah Elliott has an eye for talent. 

The Montana State freshman running back used to adore and emulate his older brother Deante Strickland. For good reason.  Strickland was everything you could want in a brother. 

Strickland was the apple of Elijah’s eye as a star athlete in high school that went on to play basketball for Portland State where he averaged 7.4 points per game over his career.  More than anything though, Strickland’s ability to direct traffic as one of the most tenacious and hard-working reserve point guards in the Big Sky. And his effusive smile made him a memorable character, statistics aside.

Strickland, a Portland native, had just graduated and planned on playing football his final year at PSU, due to having another year of eligibility, until a heartbreaking tragedy struck.

Strickland was shot and killed by his sister on August 2, 2019. The event sent shockwaves throughout the Portland area and beyond.

To honor his brother Elliott dedicated his senior season to him and wore No. 11, Strickland’s number at PSU, on the gridiron during his senior year at Central Catholic High School. 

“He is the reason why I started playing sports, honestly,” Elliott, who was a high school senior at the time, told KPTV-FOX 12 several weeks after Strickland’s death. “He taught me how to work hard and just handle your responsibility and just be a fighter and never quit.”

After MSU’s 52-10 win over San Diego Saturday, Elliott, who scored his first collegiate touchdown, was asked about MSU star running back Isaiah Ifanse and what he tries to take from him. It’s clear Elliott has a keen eye for the peers surrounding him worth looking up to.

“I think running hard is (Ifanse’s) best skill,” Elliott said. “He just doesn’t give up. He’s just got a motor, a different kind of motor. He runs very hard and I just want that part of his game.”

“I just sit there and I try to watch everything he does and I’m always asking him questions, he’s been a great mentor for me since I’ve been here.”

Elliott clearly has reverence for his elders. As Montana State prepares for a trip to Portland to take on Portland State in Hillsboro Stadium, the venue Elliott called home while starring at Central Vally High, Elliott must learn to balance that respect with the reputation he’s building, one that will be on display for many of Elliott’s closes family and friends on Saturday.

“That’s why you typically want to recruit within the footprint of your conference so those guys get those opportunities throughout the course of their careers,” Vigen said. “I know both Daniel (Hardy) and Elijah are both excited to go back home.

“Any time you have a chance regardless of whatever your situation was, the tragedies both of those guys dealt with, you are still going to be excited to see the loved ones that will be there cheering them on.”

Ifanse was a big-time, star football player in the state of Washington where he was awarded the Gatorade Player of the Year after his senior season at Bellevue High outside Seattle. Like Strickland, Ifanse is also a great contributor in the classroom.
Elliott, who waited until his brother’s birthday in March to sign his National Letter of Intent for the Bobcats, came to MSU as a highly touted 3-star rated running back. 

He ran for over 1,000 yards as a senior despite averaging just over 10 carries per game for Oregon 6A state champion Central Catholic, which is a perennial powerhouse in the Beaver State’s top high school classification.

Elliott’s 8.1 yards per carry and 17 TDs caught the attention of many suitors, as did his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield where he tallied 18 catches for 222 yards and four scores. The scouting site 247sports.com rated him the 14th best football player in Oregon after his senior season.

And he has turned heads ever since his first off-season performances during the fall of 2020.

The Bobcats travel to Portland Saturday to take on the Vikings and a throng of Elliott’s family and friends, and many fans who know his story, will be on hand.

“It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “All the family is going to come out and I just can’t wait to play in front of them. 

“It’s going to be a special moment, for sure. Probably emotional a little bit, but I can’t wait.”

Elliott wasted little time proving himself to MSU head coach Brent Vigen and the rest of the coaching staff in Bozeman. He rushed for 75 yards and TD in the Sonny Holland Classic scrimmage, but it wasn’t just his statistics that caught everyone’s eye. His style jumped off the field.

Montana State true freshman running back Elijah Elliot plunges into the end-zone on October 10, 2020/ by Garrett Becker, Montana State sports information

“He has some juice,” Vigen said last spring. “I think Elijah is a guy we can utilize in a bunch of different ways. We can give him the ball in the backfield, but he’s also a guy who can catch it and do some things out in space. He has a burst and he has a toughness to him even though he’s a little undersized.”

Elliott put all of that to good use against San Diego when, leading 7-0 early in the first quarter, he took a short jump pass on a slick, disguised QB draw 65 yards for his first touchdown as a Bobcat.

“It was pretty wide open, I just caught it and thought, ‘just don’t get caught'”, Elliott, who was able to enjoy the play as he admitted watching himself running on the Bobcat Stadium Jumbotron as he took the ball into the end-zone, said. 

“It was amazing,” he added. “I’m just thankful to be on this team. They push me every day. It was just a great moment to be able to share that moment with them.”

Montana State opens Big Sky Conference play at Portland State at Hillsboro Stadium at 3 p.m. MST on Saturday afternoon.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

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