NFL running back with Lockhart roots dies
A man with his name in the NFL record books with Lockhart roots died this week, his family confirmed on Thursday.
Former NFL running back Willie Ellison, 73, of Houston died Monday, his sister Johnetta Ellison said.
Ellison, who grew up in Lockhart and played football for Carver High School in the 1960s, played for eight seasons in the NFL. He was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Rams, who used the No. 33 pick of the 1967 NFL draft on the Texas Southern University product.
As it would turn out, Ellison had record-breaking potential.
On Dec. 5, 1971, Ellison, in his first year as the starter for the Rams, rushed for 26 times for 247 yards, breaking the single-game NFL rushing record set by Jim Brown, who rushed for 237 against the Rams in 1957.
Ellison’s record stood until 1973, when O.J. Simpson broke it with the Buffalo Bills.
In a 2017 interview on YouTube on the SaraLynn Channel, Ellison talked about the day he made it into NFL lore.
“Back in 1971, I had a setback in my life. My father had passed away, and the night before the game, I was grieving about my father,” Ellison recalled. “He was my greatest fan. I wasn’t going to play football anymore, and in a dream he came to me and said I wasn’t going to quit and that he wanted me to play in remembrance of him.
“He said he wanted to go out there and play like I had never played before. I went out there and put it all into that game.”
Ellison described holding the record as life changing.
“It made me an All-Pro running back, which was what everyone wants to do,” Ellison said. “You want to be an All-Pro and a leader and I was the second person to gain over 1,000 yards for the LA Rams.
After retiring for the league, Ellison eventually became a substitute teacher, giving him the opportunity to mentor to students.
Ellison was a big advocate of staying in school and urged athletes to complete their degrees.
“Make sure you have a degree because football only lasts so long,” Ellison said. “I spent 25 years being retired after working eight years in the NFL. Get your degree, young people.”
A funeral date has been set for Ellison. Services will be held at 11 a.m. March 22 at Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston.