Poland pair prepared to wear purple
Ellis, Kushner headed to Mount Union
POLAND — Zach Ellis was unsure of what he wanted to do after high school.
The Poland football standout was contemplating whether to continue playing or call it a career and focus on school.
Still pondering what to do in late February, he took a visit to Mount Union University, where his good friend, Mikey Kushner, was going to continue his academic and football career. Ellis took a tour of the campus and received a close-up view of the football stadium and all the facilities.
Something seemed right.
“Throughout the whole recruiting process, I talked to schools,” he said. “But once you finally go up there and you see everything, you see how rich of a history it really is, and you see that they want to see you succeed, too, it draws you in.”
Kushner had already been mesmerized by the Purple Raiders.
Ellis, a linebacker and fullback for the Bulldogs, and Kushner, a three-way standout as a receiver, defensive back and kicker, are both joining the illustrious program in Alliance. The 13-time NCAA Division III national champions boast one of the most successful football programs in the nation, and Poland coach Ryan Williams sees it as a perfect match for both players.
“What I really like is when you really feel like it’s a good fit for the kid,” said Williams of seeing former players compete in college. “Not every school is for every kid. I really feel like those guys are in a spot that’s good for them, and it’s good for the program, which makes it extra special.”
Williams has good reason to have faith in the two.
Ellis, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound middle linebacker, was a senior captain who finished with 65 tackles, four tackles-for-loss and two sacks despite playing sparingly early in the season because of injuries. He also accumulated 357 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns as a fullback.
The strong-legged Kushner, 6-1, 190 pounds, made 14-of-20 field goals over his career, with a long of 44 yards. He was a perfect 48-of-48 on extra points as a senior. He also made 24 tackles and intercepted a pass as a defensive back.
Both admit they’re going to miss suiting up for the Bulldogs.
“Definitely, especially after this past year,” Ellis said. “It was definitely a unique experience. The team bond that we had was one of a kind. We had some hardships we had to overcome together, and it was a historic season for us. … We depended on each other. It was hard. We were happy to bring home something we haven’t in 20 years, and that was a regional championship.”
The Bulldogs know a thing or two about a winning tradition.
Poland has just one losing season in the last 14 years and is coming off its first regional title since 1999, when it won the school’s first state title in football. That was the kind of program Ellis, who will play linebacker for the Purple Raiders, and Kushner, who will focus solely on kicking, wanted to be a part of in the next phase of their careers.
It’s an added bonus the two longtime friends will remain near one another after growing up playing football together.
“Zach’s one of my best friends, so for us to be able to go to college together, we’ve been working out, doing the extra work all of our entire life,” Kushner said. “You’d go look in after doubles (2-a-day practices), and it would be me and him in the weight room while everyone else was at home.
“He’s been real close to me, and he knows all the hard work that we’ve been through, so it’s just special to have someone experience what I’ve experienced and make it out.”
They’re joining a Mount Union program going through some changes.
The Purple Raiders failed to reach the national semifinals for the first time in 25 years, losing to North Central, 59-52, in the second round of the playoffs last year. Mount Union also welcomes in a first-year coach in Geoff Dartt. The former MUU offensive coordinator (and offensive lineman) takes over for Vince Kehres, who left to become defensive coordinator for the Toledo Rockets.
“This is the first time in about 30 years, I believe, that a Kehres wasn’t running Mount Union’s program,” Kushner said. “But coach Dartt, he’s been around there a long time, he knows the Mount Union way, so I’ve got full trust in him.”