The Life and Death of Adrian Ellis

Star football player, convict, politician left his mark on South Miami

Following the narrow championship loss in 2006, Ellis had considered this coming year "unfinished business."

Ellis's demise was explained to the Gray Ghosts by a social worker whose daughter is on the cheerleading squad. The game played immediately after his death turned out to be a stiff victory for the Ghosts. They took the field with dramatic vigor, pointing fingers heavenward with each touchdown. Stickers bearing Ellis's high school number, 32, adorned each of their helmets.

Williams has taken on the coaching since Ellis's death, but he'll soon pass the team on to someone else. "I have no idea how he managed to do all these things," he says of his former partner.

Justin Renteria
Justin Renteria

When the game ends, almost three hours after it began, a deafening cheer of "South Miami!" goes up. The Gray Ghosts begin doffing their armor, revealing themselves to be impossibly small — and still overflowing with energy. Pizza is produced and passed around. Some eat. Most fight, tackle, and play catch — hurling themselves onto a ball roughly the size of their torsos. One or two harangue their proud mothers with the zeal of someone who had not just spent the better part of a day thrashing around under a scorching midday sun.

They won, but no one seems to recall by exactly how much. Twenty-three to zero, says a youngster who pulls at his mother's sleeve in hopes they'll now head to the mall.

Eighteen-year-old Adrian Ellis Jr. wanders out from under a tent, offering a handsome spitting image of his father. He climbs the bleachers and sits silently among a cackling circle of friends. "In Loving Memory" is tattooed on his arm in cursive letters. He wears a blousy blue button-down shirt, just like his father.

Also like his father, Adrian Jr. had a brief run at Columbus High. But academic issues forced him to return to South Miami High, where he plays on both sides of the ball. He says he helped his father coach the Gray Ghosts every day. He wants to play football for UCF, just like his dad. The community has established a scholarship fund for the Ellis kids, but it has raised only a few thousand dollars. Adrian Jr. graduates this spring.

Asked why he plays football, Adrian laughs, as if the question pertains to the color of the sky or the motion of the ocean. "It keeps you out of trouble," he says, and then adds, "It's fun."

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