At the beginning of the month University of Southern California Coach Caryl Gilbert Smith convinced one of the Sunshine State's top sprinters Deanna Hill to head out west. Now, the former UCF coach is at it again, this time nabbing the top 400 meter runner in the state; Kendall Ellis. The St. Thomas Aquinas star has won the 4A 400 meter crown the past three years and is an integral part of a powerhouse Raider team. Recently, Ellis discussed the recruiting process and her decision to be a Trojan.
How did you get started in track and field?
I started running when I was seven. My parents said I used to run around and say "I'm fast, I'm fast!" I do not recall this though. The kids in elementary wouldn't let me play tag with them because I was "too fast. After that they put me in track and the rest is what you see today.
What has the running journey been like for you?
The journey has been difficult I won't lie. I quit after my third year, I was about 12. I quit for two years convinced I was done. I missed it, came back, but decided I wasn't going to run in college. Obviously that's changed and that shows that you never know what can come out of something if you don't stick with it. I've loved the journey and I wouldn't change a thing despite some struggles I've had, trying to figure out if I really wanted to run and just how good I could be at the sport.
When did you first start getting college attention and do you remember your first letter?
I think I first started catching people's eye after my freshman year. Mostly through my coach, since I was only a freshman, but people wanted to know who that freshman girl was running a 54 second 400 meters. I don't remember my first college letter but I do know I would always be so surprised and excited to get a questionnaire or an email or a letter, and then go home to hang it on my wall.
What was the recruiting process like for you?
The recruiting process was crazy. I was amazed that colleges wanted me to come run for them, but I really did love every second. I cried and stressed about it so many times, but I enjoyed it to the fullest because I know I only get this opportunity one time. The fun part is when you realize all these schools are really coming after you and want you. I had a lot of difficulty saying no to schools, since I had built a relationship with them, and I really didn't want to seem like the bad guy. I had to realize it's a business, it's not personal. Stressful, but a great experience is how I sum it up.
What schools did you consider?
Initially I had considered Tennessee, UCLA, USC, LSU, and FSU. I picked each school for a specific reason. Tennessee was my "random let us give it a chance and see how it goes." UCLA and USC were my top choices, LSU was my powerhouse, and FSU was my Florida school. Ultimately, it came down to USC and FSU. I just knew USC was the place where I belong and where I wanted to be a part of greatness.
What sealed the deal for the Trojans?
Everyone talks about that "feeling" you get when you're at the right school. I didn't exactly get a feeling but I just knew USC was where I wanted to be once I visited. It felt like family, between the coaches, girl's team, and boy's team. I love how they're involved in the community and I'm proud of the academic status that USC holds.
I know you were a big fan of Coach Caryl (Smith Gilbert) when she was at UCF. What kind of role did she play in the decision?
I absolutely love coach Caryl. We met my junior year at UCF junior day and I knew I wanted her to coach me. The only problem was she was a little too close to home. When she switched to USC I couldn't be happier. Everyone says not to pick a school based off a coach, but I think that's a big part of it. I've had the same coach since I started running so I knew it would be difficult to "replace" him in college. The kind of relationship and understanding my coach and I have is hard to find, but Coach Caryl has so much of my current coach in her and our personalities just click. I've seen what she did at UCF and believe she can develop me into one of the best 400 meter runners.
Speaking of the team bond Deanna Hill committed there, Alexis Faulknor from UCF transferred, former Florida standout Tynia Gaither transferred from the University of Georgia. What is that Florida bond like and how excited are you about the new additions headed to Los Angeles?
I only know of Alexis and Tynia since they were always older than me, but I know they're great assets to the team. As for Deanna, I'm excited to have someone I've competed with and hung around, at the same school as me. Although some of the other commits haven't made it public yet, I know who's coming in and it's a force to be reckoned with. USC has gotten some of the best recruits in the nation.
You mentioned Coach Armenteros and your time at St. Thomas Aquinas. What will you remember the most from your high school days?
Of course I am going to miss the fun times with my team. All the jokes at practice and just being around each other. I know I'm really going to miss Coach Alex. All the talks he's had with me whether it be to help me on the track or off.
From one rich program at STA to another at the college level in USC. What are your goals for the coming years and what are you looking forward to the most?
The goal at USC is to of course develop as a better 400 meter runner. I plan to break the school record and I think it'd be pretty cool not just to go to the NCAA finals as a freshman, but to win the whole thing all four years. I'm just excited to be a Trojan and to be a part of such a family. I'm excited for the next level of competition and being pushed to my absolute best. I think it's a different kind of experience I'll get in college and an even better one as a Trojan student athlete.