If life knocks you down eight times, stand up nine. Sometimes, accomplishing your goals can take years to accomplish but if you embrace the struggle and work hard, you will appreciate achieving those goals a lot more down the road. I sat down with the Seattle Seahawk Linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee about his journey as an undrafted free agent, what he has learned from Hall of Fame Linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner, his favorite Coach Pete Caroll stories and much more.
Talk about coming into the NFL at 21 years old with an engineering degree from Rice University?
Education was always big to my parents, especially my mother. Both of them coming from very humble means. My mom came from one of fifteen kids. Then my dad was poverty in the projects of Brooklyn, New York, on welfare. So they worked their butts off to be able to provide for me a life, and felt they would have failed me if we told you to just go out there and play football.
Sometimes football doesn’t work out the way you want it to. So they told me your body could fail you but the one thing they can’t take away from you is your mind. They always expressed to me that it’s cool to pursue your dreams of being a professional athlete. But also try to get a degree because that’s what’s going to help you out later in life. No matter how long you play it’s going to end someday. So when I was coming out, I knew I really like math and science and I also knew I wanted to make a lot of money. So, I had to figure out what gave me the option to make a bunch of money and combine my passions.
How did you react when you heard the news about COVID-19? What are you doing to prepare yourself for next season?
I was worried about it honestly, you know its crazy. You don’t think about how much it affects you until it really happens. I saw they were shutting down schools and gyms so I wondered, ‘Are they gonna shut down what we are doing?’ because this is my 9-5. Working out every day is how I prepare for next season. If you don’t work out, it’s going to catch up with you. You can’t just sit down, you have to continue to work out. Luckily enough for me, they mandated where you are only allowed in the facility or you can work out if you are rehabbing. So I am rehabbing so I still get to use the facility.
What is it like playing with Hall of Fame Linebackers in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright? What have you learned from them?
Both Bobby and K.J. are like older brothers to me, so we sit and talk. I’m consistently picking their brains… I am always asking what do you think about this or that or what made you shoot this gap? They really believe in see one, teach one. Ever since I’ve been on the team which is year three for me, they have been helpful.
We have a really good room with that. They are always showing this how it should be done. This is how to be a pro. This is how you have a good work ethic and this is how you take care of your body. All those different types of things that will make a difference in the long run. It’s not all about showing up and making plays. You have to be able to come in, make plays and take care of your body so you can make those plays week-in and week-out.
In a few years, you could take over that spot, when these guys retire. Talk about that.
Yeah, that’s how it works, we always talk about that. You are always one play away no matter what. If you’re on the team, you’re not there to just be on the team. You’re here to do a job and if something happens to somebody, you’re expected to come in a not miss a beat. That’s cool about the NFL to me is that every single week there is an opportunity for you to go out there and you don’t know what will happen. You don’t wish an injury on anybody because you know how hard it is to get here. But, things happen and God makes opportunities for you in different types of ways. So, just have to be ready for it.
How much fun is it playing for Pete Carroll and what is your favorite Pete Carroll story?
Coach Caroll is one of the oldest head coaches in the league but he acts like one of the youngest. He brings so much energy day-in and day-out. Coach Carroll does not act like an old man, no matter what he’s energetic. He is running around when we run scout team he runs routes. He’s not the equivalent of a Tyler Lockett, but he is still moving.
One time we were doing a special team practice and we were working on our kickoff. So we are getting ready and you usually have the kickoff versus practice squad. So, coach Caroll goes back there and decides to be the returner. Usually, the scout team kickoff returner runs around and everybody gathers around him and we stop. We see coach Caroll back and there we think he’s just trying to do his energetic thing.
But he comes in and tries to run somebody over. We are thinking coach is just joking the first time, but he comes back and tries to run somebody over again. I’ve been on three different teams and not too many coaches are doing that. I don’t think any coach would go back there and do the scout team kickoff, catching the ball and actually giving the kickoff team a look in a full-speed and all energy with multiple reps in a row and then on top of that trying to run somebody over.
It’s cool and really good playing for him. He brings a lot of positive energy to the team and that’s something you admire for someone you play for because that’s something you want to continue to go through. Every single day it’s like he’s living his dream and he’s making fun of it every single time we play and that’s something you enjoy as a player. You don’t want to work for someone that makes it negative for you. Coach Caroll brings a lot of energy and the culture he’s built with the team. Even the older guys that translate it to us younger guys and it’s a cool dynamic we have on our team.
Talk about your journey as an undrafted player.
Being undrafted it’s a different journey. It’s not the typical one that everybody sees when you hear your name called on draft day and the dudes by their mom’s houses and walk on the stage. That happens for maybe 32 or first, second, or third round guys. Really just the 1st and some second-round dudes. But for a lot of us that are in the league, a lot of us are undrafted free agents… It’s sorta like being a walk-on in college, obviously, the stakes are higher because you are getting paid for it. People’s salaries are on the line week-in and week-out.
So as an undrafted guy, I went to Atlanta and really had prove it. Every single time I was out there on the field. I always try to prove my worth no matter. You have to have a chip on your shoulder. Personally, I had a chip on my shoulder from the simple fact that I was undrafted, nobody called my name. So I had to show every team, all 32 of them that I should have been called on draft weekend. Being an undrafted free agent, you go through a bunch of trials and tribulations.
My rookie was a journey for sure. I go to Atlanta out college and with them through the preseason and I balled out during the preseason. I played very well. But I got cut. Sometimes you do everything you can and you get cut. I went home and was there maybe 24 hours… So I’m thinking here I am a ground zero. All I can do is pray to God and have God guide my steps, stay ready and when the next opportunity comes I will grab it.
That Sunday morning I went to church with my parents and my agent started getting calls from about four to five teams that were texting him saying they wanted to bring me in on the practice squad… I went to church and it’s funny the church sermon was talking about God is going to put you through a little bit of fire. But when you come out of the fire, you’re going to be better than you were before…
After that I get a call, I was at brunch with my parents at one of our spots after church and I see a text from my agent saying I got claimed by the Los Angeles Chargers to be on their 53-man roster. I was in disbelief eating some food and I show my parents. Next thing I know we are in the middle of the restaurant screaming and yelling… So, I flew out that night to L.A. and in a matter of 24 hours. I went from being an Atlanta Falcon to a Los Angeles Charger…
For the first couple of games, I was inactive. I was a healthy scratch because I just got there. After three games into the season, I was playing on special teams. After that, we went to London (NFL International games).
This is where things get crazy for an undrafted free-agent and you really have to let God order your steps. We are playing against the Tennesse Titans and I’m starting on kickoff return and punt return. The night before the game you have all your meetings and get the gameplan cemented. I’m in the special teams meeting and our coach comes in and tells me we are going to have a couple of guys down that we usually don’t have down and I found out I was getting removed off of everything. I’m not thinking anything of it maybe something happened.
All of a sudden, our GM comes in and tells me our running back is hurt and pulled his hamstring and he wasn’t going to play the next day. They didn’t want to go into the game with only two running backs. So, I ended up getting cut and they elevated a guy off the practice squad so they could have a certain amount of running backs. So I got cut in London the night before the game… All the upstairs front office people and head coaches are telling me they wanted to sign me back. “Don’t worry about it we are going to get you back after the bye week and make sure you’re active for our next game…”
So I’m buying a ticket to go back home because I knew we had a bye week. Everyone at the Chargers is calling me, asking me, ‘Have I gotten a call? Has anyone claimed you?’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t heard anything.’ So they tell me to come back up there to get me signed back up…
I drive back up there and, as soon as I open the door, the GM, a scout, and the director of pro personnel were all standing in the entryway with this somber look on their face. They said you got claimed someone snatched you from us. They thought that I would be safe and still be there. The league won’t tell us who grabbed you but you will be getting a call in the next 30 minutes. I had only been there a short time but I built good relationships. I liked playing there and I liked the culture it was cool…
As I’m walking to my car I get a call from Washington, so I’m thinking it’s Washington DC, not the state of Washington. The director of pro personnel calls me and says, ‘I’m from the Seatle Seahawks and we just claimed you. What is your schedule like? We are trying to get you on a flight up here tonight.’ I didn’t know much about Seattle but I heard it rains a lot. But I’m excited because it’s an opportunity. I always love opportunities because they saw something in me and wanted to come grab me so let’s roll with it. They want to make something work, so that’s all I need…
Next thing I know I was in Seattle and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve gone up and down the roster again (roster moves). Being an undrafted guy a lot of it is for me is I always pride myself on being the hardest working guy in the building. The first one to get there and the last one to leave. Always taking the most out of my opportunities.
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