Anyone who watched Moses Ellis play for Prairie View A&M over the years, and particularly last year, knows why he's considered one of the top defensive backs in the country.
He led the SWAC and the FCS with eight interceptions and 22 passes defended. In addition, Ellis had 41 total tackles with 28 solos, and was selected to the Walter Camp Foundation Football Championship Subdivision All-American team.
In case you missed Ellis' moves last season, you'll have the chance to see the senior take center stage in the seventh annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney in September at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla, pitting the Prairie View A&M Panthers against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.
Even though this will be the first-ever meeting between the schools -- and also the first time both programs will be participating in the event -- Ellis knows it's a great opportunity to get the season off on the right track in front of a national TV audience.
"It's a big game," Ellis says. "I'm looking forward to the challenge of playing Bethune-Cookman. They're a good team. I had a chance to meet their coaches and a couple of their players at the All-American banquet in Florida. They're good guys. We're looking to compete. We want to try and win it. That's the No. 1 goal going into that game."
Ellis isn't just speaking for himself. The whole team, he says, knows the stakes are high. "It's really got us fired up and ready to go," he continues. "It's the first game of the season, and we have a young team. We have a lot of guys trying to put on display what they can do. They want to show the coaches, and the world, that they can play."
At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Ellis is one of the smallest defensive backs in the SWAC, which only strengthens his resolve. "Quarterbacks and taller receivers are going to test me," he says. "I've got to stand my ground and play ball."
So far, he's done just that. Ellis has played a big part in helping Prairie View A&M turn its program around after years and years of mediocrity. The Panthers dropped an NCAA record 80 consecutive games from 1989 to 1998. In 2007, the school put together its first winning season in 31 years. But the tide has turned over the past three years, as Prairie View A&M has been one of the strongest teams in the SWAC. In 2009, the Panthers won the conference title. A year ago, they finished third in the SWAC's Western Division (6-3), with a 7-4 overall record.
Ellis played for three years under coach Henry Frazier, who was recently named coach at North Carolina Central University. Heishma Northern, the Panthers' former defensive coordinator, has taken over the program as the new man in charge, and he appreciates Ellis' skills.
"Moses has good speed, good ball skills and good acceleration," says Northern. "A lot of guys have all the above, but they don't know how to finish the play. He could have had a few more interceptions, but to have eight is real good. He's probably going to return punts for us as well. He's definitely one of our team leaders."
For his part, Ellis is pleased to be a part of the Panthers' football legacy. The All-SWAC standout got on Prairie View A&M's radar when he played at Everman High School in Fort Worth, Texas, just three-and-a-half hours from Prairie View's campus.
"I didn't have many looks [from colleges] when I was in high school," says Ellis. "Prairie View A&M was one of the teams that just stayed with me. They really care about me. That was the route I took, and ever since I've been here it's been like family. It's home away from home."
Ellis' decision to play for the Panthers turned out to be a good one, as his ball skills have made him a solid NFL prospect. His coach isn't surprised: "He's always been a heady player," says Northern. "He's been working on his craft, technique and all the things that make him a good defensive back. I think all those things are going to take his game to another level."
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at email@example.com.