HOOVER, Ala. — Each conference uses this time of year to shine light on the best it has to offer at media days, and the SEC was no different last week.
The league unveiled a new slogan — “It Just Means More” — and paraded all 14 head coaches and 42 players around the Wynfrey Hotel. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey kicked off the event with a 4,300-word opening statement that included several references to specific athletes that made him proud.
Arkansas senior linebacker Brooks Ellis was among those who earned a special mention for his 3.8 grade point average, pre-med student status and the summer trip he took to Central America.
Ellis and other Arkansas biology students traveled to Belize earlier this summer to study and take in a different culture. He enjoyed his time there — even if the trip got off to a less-than-ideal start.
“I stepped off the plane, and did not stop sweating the entire time,” Ellis recalled. “Three nights, I had no AC and (those were) probably the worst nights of my life. I need some AC to sleep.”
Ellis and his classmates explored caves, checked out the wildlife and plants unique to the region and visited some of the several Mayan ruins located within the country.
While there, Ellis and his fellow travelers posed in front of the “El Castillo” temple at Xunantunich — a Mayan archaeological site in western Belize — and held an Arkansas Razorbacks flag. Ellis posted the photo to his Instagram account with the caption “Hog takeover in Mayan Country.”
And in addition to the fun stuff, the trip provided Ellis with an important glance at how some of the country’s less fortunate people live. Belize had a 12.9 percent unemployment rate in 2014, and 41 percent of the population lived beneath the poverty line in 2013, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.
“Lots of poverty down there,” Ellis said, “So it was really interesting to see everybody and just the diversity of people down there and how they interact.”
As a pre-med student, Ellis is a rarity among major college football players.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said of the four-year starter and Fayetteville native, “(He) did so many different things that did not pertain to football that will give him success forever.”
For now, though, football is the focus, especially since Ellis is only taking two classes during the fall semester.
Ellis and sophomore Dre Greenlaw were essentially all Arkansas had at linebacker in 2015 — and they played virtually every defensive snap — so Hogs coaches are hoping for more depth in those spots this season.
Sophomore Randy Ramsey, who returns to the team after missing all of last season for academic reasons, and juniors Dwayne Eugene and Khalia Hackett are expected to contribute more in 2016. The Hogs also signed three linebackers in their 2016 recruiting class.
“It’s going to be a huge help having so much depth,” Ellis said. “A lot more guys can play out there and make plays for us and that’s going to be huge.
“Getting a breather every once and a while, it’s going to be nice.”