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Tino Ellis’ journey with Maryland football comes full circle against Howard this weekend

The senior cornerback will be one of the Terps’ three captains in Saturday’s season opener.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Maryland at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cornerback Tino Ellis still remembers walking out of the tunnel for his first game in a Maryland uniform as a freshman.

Wow, I’m really here, he thought to himself as he looked around the stadium. This is my first college game, I’m really at Maryland.

“I was happy, you know, to see the fans and stuff like that. It was crazy,” Ellis told Testudo Times of the 2016 matchup against Howard. “I was definitely nervous.”

Ellis will now start his senior season against the Bison, not only as a key defensive player for the Terps, but as one of three team captains for Week 1. He found out during a team meeting on Monday when coach Mike Locksley announced the news to the whole team.

“I was thrilled,” Ellis said. “I’m happy to be a team captain. [It’s] something I always wanted to do since I got here as a freshman, so it really means a lot to me.”

For Locksley, choosing Ellis for the honor was an easy choice.

“Tino is a man of few words. He doesn’t do a lot of talking, but anytime you look at any drill we do, any workout we have, he’s the guy that’s always in the front, always giving great effort,” Locksley said. “He has the right kind of habits and behaviors that we look for, and he has a positive impact on others.

“People look up to him, they look at him for how he goes about doing his business. … He’s been a great example of the type of leadership that we’re going to need.”

Running back Anthony McFarland Jr., who played with Ellis in high school at DeMatha, said it wasn’t a shift going into this season. Since they were young teenagers, he was always that guy.

“He was a leader at DeMatha, just always stood out,” McFarland said. “He’s the one that leads in his play. People just kind of follow him, and they love how hard he works. I love how hard he works.”

The grind has certainly paid dividends for Ellis, who switched from wide receiver to cornerback once in College Park. In that first game, the Reisterstown, Maryland, native didn’t see much time on the field but recorded one tackle. He made his first start a little over a month later against Minnesota. The following season, he found his way to the top of the depth chart six times.

Ellis really began to shine for the Terps’ defense in 2018, though. He started every game at cornerback, leading the team with 11 pass breakups — fourth-most in the Big Ten — and also recorded 23 tackles (19 solo), three tackles for loss and an interception. At the end of the season, he was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention.

Now as he prepares for his final college season, he still remembers the adrenaline mix of nervousness and excitement he had as he got ready to take the field in College Park for the first time. Once he got into the action, the change in game speed hit him like a brick, a completely new tempo from high school in real time.

Ellis knows many of this year’s younger players might experience the same thing when they get snaps for the first time. He’ll be there to provide guidance as he strives to be both a vocal leader and example on the field.

“Me and Twan (Antoine Brooks Jr.), we’re trying to lead this group the best that we can and help out in the most ways we can,” he said. “There’s a lot of accountability that I have as a leader on this team and as a starter, so I’m just ready to play.”