Victor Ellis, who gained admirers as a University of Alabama linebacker and as a cancer fighter, died Tuesday night at the age of 28.
Ellis was diagnosed last August with medullary renal cell carcinoma, a brutal and largely unfamiliar cancer that originated in his kidney and quickly spread to his lungs, chest cavity, spine and pelvis. Last month, the cancer spread to his heart.
Only 50 previous cases of the cancer had been detected, with the life expectancy after diagnosis ranging from three weeks to three months. Ellis, who starred at Red Bank High before his four seasons with the Crimson Tide, lived seven months after being diagnosed.
“The one thing I don’t think I’ll ever forget about Victor is just his attitude, his approach to the game and just the smile that was always on his face,” former Alabama coach Mike DuBose said. “I don’t know that I ever saw him when he was down. I don’t know that I ever saw when he had a disagreeable attitude. He was always very, very positive and upbeat, and we went through some tough seasons.
“He reminded me in so many ways with the way he handled and carried himself to Cornelius Bennett, who we had earlier.”
Ellis made 164 tackles and 10 interceptions during his two seasons (1996-97) at Red Bank and was a member of DuBose’s second signing class at Alabama. He racked up 145 career tackles for the Tide, producing his best season as a junior in 2000, when he had 94 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
In a 45-7 rout of Ole Miss that season, Ellis blocked a Les Binkley field goal that Kecalf Bailey returned 63 yards for a touchdown.
Ellis went out a winner in 2001 as the Tide smoked Auburn in Auburn — which remains Alabama’s last win in the series — and topped Iowa State in the Independence Bowl. He graduated in 2002 with a degree in communications and briefly tried out with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Two years ago, Ellis returned to Alabama in a sense when the university hired him to recruit prospective students throughout the Carolinas.
In the same way he once thrilled fans at Red Bank and Alabama, Ellis continued to inspire fellow cancer patients at Memorial Hospital, as well as the staff. One patient, Stacy Woody, continually was amazed at how upbeat Ellis would be during the depths of his battle.
“I simply cannot express this young man’s ability to be so selfless, gracious, caring, determined and more,” Woody said. “He is what every parent hopes their child grows up to be.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...