From Farrell to Fukuoka: Richard Ellebie thrives in Japan's X-League
Story By: Taylor Nichol
"Not everyone makes it into the NFL."
Every high school or college football player with high hopes has heard it said before. Like many recent college graduates, Richard Ellebie was not sure what life after school would bring when he left Westminster College in December 2015. Ellebie was an undeniable stunner at defensive tackle, credited with a whopping 142 career tackles. He was also honored as Most Valuable Defensive Player in 2015 and received All-PAC First Team honors in 2014 and 2015. He knew pursuing football professionally was the goal, but he had a realistic grip on the statistics. Ellebie also needed a foot surgery before he could run full speed at his dream career.
After going through a post-surgery recovery process, Ellebie endured a few struggles in his endeavors. "Soon after recovering, I had tryouts for the CFL (Canadian Football League) that never really went anywhere, unfortunately. A few teams from Australia and other parts of Europe would contact me about playing but nothing was ever set in stone," he said.
He persisted by trying to create a great highlight tape and make more connections in the industry. In the mean time, he was working a variety of jobs to make ends meet. One day, he received a call that would put his professional football career into motion. The caller was a man named James Brooks, who is now a very good friend to Ellebie. Brooks called to help him get a foot in the door in Japan.
Before he knew it, he was packing up what he could fit into a suitcase and headed overseas, where he would play for IBM Big Blue in Tokyo. He played there for about two months in Spring 2017. That Fall, he was picked up by the Tokyo Gas Creators, where he played two incredible seasons. This past Spring, he traveled to Hungary and played for Miskolc Steelers, an HFL team. These three experiences led him to where he is now, playing in Japan once again. This time, he will suit up as a Fukuoka Sun.
It has been a whirlwind experience for Ellebie, who spent most of his life in a small town. "Some times I sit back and think about how I came from Farrell, PA and now I am on the other side of the world. I definitely get homesick sometimes, but I've learned how to handle it. The energy and vibes I get from interacting with new people from around the globe has really helped me as a person," he says.
Though the languages and players' backgrounds may be different, Ellebie knows the game and is benefiting from his new perspective. "Since a lot of the language is foreign to me, being here taught me how to analyze the game on a different level, both playing and coaching," he stated.
Ellebie is now playing for his 4th professional football team, primarily on defensive line. He is having the time of his life, living what was once just a dream. He says his motivation comes from his Mother and the strength he found in dark times. "She passed away when I was still in college, and things got rough. I lost a lot of what we had at the time. Going from place to place and trying to stay in school was hard," he recalled.
At one point, Ellebie gave up one of the things he loved most. "I even stopped playing football for awhile, but I knew no good would come from that. That wouldn’t be what she wanted. So I got back on track with some help from others, like my Dad. He has been in my corner ever since and beyond. Looking back, all of that has been driving me to succeed," he said.
Ellebie received a lot of support from his friends and family, and he wants to share that inspiration with others. "I would tell an aspiring pro player what everyone told me: it is possible that you won't make it to the NFL. But I want everyone to know, that shouldn't stop you. You have to chase the dream until YOU say it's over, not someone else," he says.
For years, he has been pushing through and knocking down barriers to get where he is right now. On the field, he believes his greatest achievement so far was helping to lead the Creators to their first playoff appearance in the history of their franchise. He does not let one day pass without being grateful for where he is. He tries to soak up each and every moment. These days, he can be found training on the beach in preparation for the start of football season.
What does the future hold for Richard Ellebie? He is very excited for his new venture in Fukuoka. The Suns' season commences on August 31. He hopes for many more years of playing and also to explore his entrepreneurial side. "I would love to start a business of my own someday, with clothes, accessories, and such. It would fascinate me to see something I came up with spread nationwide, or even to another country," he said.
While growing up, his sights may have been on the NFL, but Ellebie is on the ride of his life and thriving beyond what he ever imagined. Being in a foreign country has shaped him and his work ethic for the better. He hopes he sets an example that there is a big world of professional American football out there. He believes hard work and an open mind can lead players to better versions of themselves, on and off the field.
When wrapping up the interview, Ellebie laughed as he listed one more goal. "Oh, and also I want to go viral! Let’s makes that happen!" Sports fanatics and young players alike should keep an eye on Richard Ellebie!
Click here to view Richard Ellebie's X-league highlights on Hudl!