In the Trenches with Kai Ellis
Dec. 2, 2002
When opposing quarterbacks see Kai Ellis talking to his hands, they know to be worried. Once the play starts, it's the hands themselves that do all the talking. Ellis' hands said plenty in last Saturday's 29-26 Husky victory over third-ranked Washington State. The senior defensive end earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honors after dominating the Cougars to the tune of 12 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, two sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, including a deflection and recovery of a backwards pass by Cougars quarterback Matt Kegel in the third overtime that sealed the Husky win. In two years since transferring to Washington from City College of San Francisco, 'The Creature' - as teammates call Ellis - has become one of the Pac-10's most feared pass-rushers, totaling seven sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss this season alone. The win over the Cougars was especially satisfying for Ellis, who originally committed to Washington State out of Kentridge High School, but failed to qualify academically and instead enrolled at CCSF, later choosing to finish his career at Washington. Ellis endured taunts from many in the stands as he took the field on Saturday, but silenced the crowd with his overwhelming performance. The team's confidence is at an all-time high, and Ellis hopes that a fourth straight win may be 'in the cards' should the Huskies end up in a bowl game in Las Vegas, or possibly Phoenix.
GoHuskies.com: What was the feeling on Friday on the plane ride to Pullman?
Kai Ellis: 'It wasn't really tense, it was more relaxed for me. Myself and Anthony Kelley were taking each other's sandwiches and hiding them, just goofing around. We knew we had to win; we had to put this one in the bag. This was our rival, Washington State.'
GH: You may have been relaxed, but what about everyone else?
Ellis: 'It was just me and AK who were playin' around. Everybody else was quiet, they had their headsets on - thinking about the game, studying their play sheets and otherwise getting ready to play.'
GH: Late in the second half, the Cougars had a 17-7 lead and were driving down inside the 20-yard line. What was going through your mind then?
Ellis: 'It's happened all season. We knew we could stop them. They can't win if they don't score, so our job as a defense is to make sure they don't make it into the end zone.'
GH: Did WSU's No. 3 national ranking intimidate you at all?
Ellis: 'That's all just politics. Whether we're playing the No. 3 team or the No. 33 team, we know they put their pants on the same way we do.'
GH: Does it feel good having never lost to the Cougs in your time here?
Ellis: 'Yeah, especially because I was supposed to go there.'
GH: You played with or against a lot of WSU's players in high school - how did the reunion go Saturday?
Ellis: 'Derrick Roche, the Cougs' o-lineman, went to Kentridge with me. He didn't really talk trash, but he patted me on the back when they scored their second touchdown. It was like, 'Yeah, we've got you now.''
GH: When you finally won, you must have been pretty euphoric, but did it make you wonder what could have been?
Ellis: 'This is where we should've been, that's what I was thinking. I was wondering why we couldn't do this at the beginning of the season.'
GH: What was the turning point this weekend?
Ellis: 'Nate Robinson's interception was big, as was the play when Terry Johnson sacked Jason Gesser, and he had to leave the game.'
GH: Did your family go to the game?
Ellis: 'No they didn't get to go.'
GH: Did you talk to them afterwards; what did they say?
Ellis: 'My mom said she heard it on the radio when she was going to Safeway, and that she was there when she heard about the interception; I guess she went running through the aisles. My dad just said, 'Good game!''
GH: He didn't run through the aisles, or even ride a shopping cart or anything?
Ellis: (laughing) 'No!'
GH: Let's talk about the play that set off all the commotion. You've gone on record saying that you thought you intercepted the pass, then fumbled and recovered. When the officials huddled up, were you nervous of what the outcome might be?
Ellis: 'I thought, 'What's there to conference about? The game should be over; there's nothing to talk about.''
GH: Is it fair to call this game your best ever?
Ellis: 'Equal to Michigan.'
GH: What's your feeling with people jumping on and off the UW bandwagon?
Ellis: 'Either you're on the boat, or you're off. A real family will be with you through thick and thin. It's those other fans that will jump off when a team is doing terrible, so now they're a Florida State fan or a Cougar fan. I think you should just make up your mind.'
GH: Now that UW has assured a bowl invitation, do you have any preferences?
Ellis: 'I'd like to go to Las Vegas!'
GH: Coach Neuheisel had said that teams have to learn how to overcome adversity; how true do you think that statement is right now?
Ellis: 'Before, he handed out this saying 'Tough times never last, tough people do.' Then he apologized for not having everything how the Huskies used to have it before he came here. I think we turned it around after that.'
GH: Is this the happiest time for you as a Husky?
Ellis: 'The last two weeks, yes, starting down in Oregon and ending at Washington State.'
GH: Do you have any big plans for Thanksgiving?
Ellis: 'I'm going to two or three different houses. I may start at my girlfriend's house, and eat over there. They're having something like champagne turkey ? Her dad's a chef. Then I'll go to my dad's house and eat over there, then go to Tacoma and eat over at my aunt's house.'
GH: That's a lot of Stove Top stuffing!
Ellis: (laughing) 'What can I say? I like Thanksgiving.'