Avery Ellis is a 6’2 offensive lineman from New Jersey. He signed with the Redblacks in 2017, and since his breakout year in 2019 where he recorded over 54 tackles and 7 sacks, he’s been making waves on the field. Since then, he has continued to make waves on the field.
Off the field, Avery spends his time discovering Ottawa’s hidden restaurants as a self-proclaimed foodie, and recently celebrated his 27th birthday. We chatted with with the New Jersey native about his journey to the CFL, the new season, and his favourite spots in Ottawa.
Tell us a little about your life growing up in New Jersey. What are some of your favourite memories?
When I was in middle school, I got accepted into a program to study marine biology in the Bahamas. The school was in a small town and owned by an ex-marine. It was a cool experience and definitely one of my favourite memories as a child.
When did you first start playing football?
I was always a basketball fan. I loved playing basketball, that was my number one love and my number one sport. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in highschool that I started playing football. I didn’t play on the varsity team until my junior year. I was playing basketball in the AAU, and my parents wanted me to try out for football instead. I gave it a shot, but I really had no idea how to play. In my freshmen year, I ended up getting hurt and couldn’t play basketball. The same thing happened two years in a row, and I finally decided to switch sports. So in junior year, I started playing football.
Were you always a Defensive End, or did you play other positions growing up?
I actually wanted to be a quarterback, but I realized I had no accuracy (laughs). Then I started playing wide receiver, and I started gaining weight and kept making my way down from position to position. I went from wide receiver to tight end, to linebacker, and now I play defensive end.
Being a guy from Jersey, were you a big Giants or Jets fan growing up? Who were some of your heroes as a kid?
I was actually a big Mets fan back when they were in New Jersey, before they moved to Brooklyn. I grew up in the era where they had Jason Kidd and Vince Carter and I always wore the number 15, even on the football field, because of Vince Carter. He and Jason were definitely my favourites and my heroes.
What do you like most about living in Canada, and in Ottawa? Any favourite local spots around the city you like to go to?
I love eating out in Ottawa. I’m a bit of a foodie, but I like to cook myself too. I’m really big on pizza, and my favourite spot is Heartbreakers Pizza + Wine. I’m also a big steak and fries guy, so I like to go to The Whalesbone or The Keg. There are so many other spots too, I just love to go out and see what’s good, what’s new, what’s poppin. I don’t trust the Yelp reviews all the time… I find these rare blogs from other food lovers and take their recommendations.
Who is your least favourite Offensive Lineman to go up against in the CFL? What about him makes him so tough to play against?
I don’t hate anyone, but I’ll have to say Justin Renfrow. He and I are friends, so I kind of have this personal vendetta out for him, I wanna beat them over and over (laughs).
You had a breakout year in 2019 with 54 tackles and 7 sacks, and that has carried over now to 2021. What was it about the 2019 season that led to your growth as a player?
I think it was the experience I had the years before and just understanding the game better. I took that whole season a bit differently. I ended up having a couple of mentors who played in the CFL for a while like Jamaal Westerman, where some time ago he had 16-17 sacks. He’s from New Jersey as well. We trained together in the off-season and he showed me a different work ethic, one I thought I had, but not at his level. So that was a big difference going into the 2021 season.
Let’s talk about life away from the field. During lockdown, you completed a Sports Business Degree from Temple University. When you think about life after football, what would be your dream career or job?
After football, I know I’d want to stay in the realm of sports. I’d strive to be a General Manager because I don’t think I would want to coach, but I would definitely want to delegate on how a team would run. For the collegiate level, I would like to be an Athletic Director. During my time at Temple, I was an assistant to one of our AD’s, and it was a cool job. You get to be around all the sports, help athletes grow and provide different tools for them to put in their toolboxes to be better after their sports career is done.
I think that a General Manager or Athletic Director would be the best job for me to strive for after football is over.
What is your favourite thing about the Holiday Season? Do you have any family traditions that you look forward to the most every year?
Every time my family gets together, whether on Christmas or Thanksgiving, we have a big potluck. It gets competitive, and people end up bringing the same dishes in order to outdo each other. One year I think we had 7 different lasagnas (laughs). We all give our rankings, too. It’s my favourite time of the year because of that… as soon as someone says the dish their going to bring in the family group chat, it’s game on. The next thing you know, there are 20 different versions of it coming to Christmas Dinner for the family to judge.
Favourite Christmas movie?
Home Alone for sure.
What about a favourite book or movie?
For the best book, probably anything by Malcolm Gladwell. For movies… there are so many to choose from. I’m a big Will Smith fan. As much as he didn’t like Wild Wild West, I know he thinks it’s his worst movie, there’s someone out there who loves it, which is me.
You mentioned that you like to cook. If you were having the team over for dinner, what meal would you serve?
There’s a lot of big guys, so I would need to find something that would satisfy everyone. I wouldn’t make something small like a 5-star plate. I would make a nice jerk-chicken pasta with a salad on the side to keep it healthy. I don’t want them to know about the butter and cheese that’s in the pasta.
You recently celebrated your 27th birthday. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your 26th year?
I know it’s going to sound so cliché, but how you do anything is how you do everything.
Approach everything like you won’t have that opportunity ever again. Not only in football, in everyday life, too. I try to give the maximum effort in everything I do. It’s about being present. Too often we have a great moment in front of us, but we are so busy thinking about the future or the past that we don’t pay attention. One thing from 26 to 27 is I really started to enjoy the moment. Not thinking about what is to come, or what has happened… but just making the most out of the moment that is happening right now.
What’s your best advice for aspiring athletes, or any youth, looking to establish themselves in their career and achieve their goals?
I would say to stay true to yourself. Don’t try to compare yourself to others. Get 1% better everyday. Athletes are always so busy looking at others and comparing themselves and looking at the competition, but it’s really just between you and you. If I ran 6 sprints today, my goal tomorrow will be to run 7 or 8, and to just keep building myself. Only compete against yourself, because you will shock yourself from the day you start to the day you are ready to have that measured.
Photography by Sean Sisk