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TOP > What’s New > 【Preview/Feature】DT Ellebie makes most of chance as Tokyo Gas’ first American player

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【Preview/Feature】DT Ellebie makes most of chance as Tokyo Gas’ first American player


Tokyo Gas defensive tackle Richard Ellebie (36) in action against Fujitsu on Sept. 23 in Kawasaki. (photo by MIPlanning)




DT Ellebie makes most of chance as Tokyo Gas’ first American player

By Ken Marantz


When he joined the Tokyo Gas Creators for the fall season, defensive tackle Richard Ellebie became the first-ever American player on the team’s roster. That wasn’t the plan when he first came to Japan a few months earlier, but he and the club seem to be liking how it turned out.


“It was fate,” first-year head coach Masato Itai said following the Creators’ recent game against the Fujitsu Frontiers in Kawasaki. “We told him there was a chance for him to play for Tokyo Gas, and after talking it over with him, he said he would do it.”


Ellebie had actually come to Japan to play for the IBM BigBlue, and saw action with them during the spring Pearl Bowl tournament. But he was not kept on and, in an unprecedented occurrence for a foreign player, made the move to another team for the fall.


“It was kind of a tryout period for me at IBM,” Ellebie said. “Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way I intended it to. I was lucky enough that Tokyo Gas picked me up for the fall.”


Opening the pipeline to Tokyo Gas for Ellebie was none other than IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada, who told him the Creators were in the market for an American player. Kurt Rose, now an assistant at IBM, was Itai’s predecessor as Tokyo Gas head coach.


“They were looking for a defensive player,” the 26-year-old Ellebie said. “They were struggling on the defensive line. I’m here to help them out, and I’m going to actually see if they want some help recruiting more.”


With Ellebie anchoring the defensive line, the Creators opened the season by giving up just six points in their first two games, beating the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Dept. Eagles 32-6 and Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC 30-0. They then met their match in the defending champion Frontiers, falling 59-0.


On Sunday, Tokyo Gas will try to make history when it travels to Osaka to take on the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers. Last season, the first under the revamped format, only one Battle 9 team defeated a Super 9 member, when the All Mitsubishi Lions knocked off the Elecom Kobe Finies 17-14. By becoming the first Battle 9 team to do so this season, the Creators would take a big step toward earning one of the two wild card spots in the playoffs.


Ellebie did not play in IBM’s first two games in the Pearl Bowl, including a 52-3 rout of Tokyo Gas, but he saw action in the semifinal win over the Nojima Sagamihara Rise and the final against the Obic Seagulls, which the BigBlue lost 29-27. But he was aware of the gaps in level within the league. Facing Fujitsu provided good preparation for another tough test against Asahi Soft Drinks, which will be desperate for a win after losing two of its first three games.


“It was a big difference,” the 180-centimeter, 120-kilogram Ellebie said of facing the Fujitsu offensive line. “By size, those guys are definitely good, definitely bigger than the post teams that we played against, and a lot more physical.”


Ellebie managed to grab a pair of tackles, and was also in the thick of the pack that stopped the Frontiers on a 4th-and-1 gamble, one of the few highlights of the game for the Creators.


“We have a pretty strong offensive line,” Fujitsu running back Gino Gordon said. “I think we have the best offensive line in the country. He did a pretty good job of competing. He showed up quite a few times.”


While the X-League has representatives from several traditional powers in U.S. college football—Michigan, UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado, to name a few—Ellebie played on the non-scholarship Division III level at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., a school of 1,300 an hour north of Pittsburgh.


Ellebie was named to the Presidents’ Athletic Conference first team in both 2014 and 2015, and finished his career with 142 tackles and 10 sacks in 30 games for the Titans. He is not the only Division III player in the X-League. IBM tight end John Stanton, who went to St. John’s (Minnesota), has been a three-time All League selection in his five years in the league.


After graduating in 2015, Ellebie worked at a placement facility for troubled youth, and also as a trainer at a gym that a friend had opened. It was former teammate at Westminster who introduced him to IBM defensive end James Brooks, which led to his invitation to try out for the BigBlue.


“I felt I played pretty well [in the spring],” Ellebie said. “I feel I did what I was supposed to do. Unfortunately, they were looking for something else. I respect their decision.”


Ellebie returned to Japan on Aug. 6, just before the Creators started camp. He wanted to make a good impression; he was just not sure at first who to impress.


“At first, I didn’t know who he was,” Ellebie said of Itai, the former Kansai University coach and Kashima Deers star tight end. “I had never seen a picture of him. At first I was like, ‘are you a player?’ He was like, ‘No, I’m the coach.’ I heard a lot about him. He’s a good guy. I like him a lot.”


The feeling, it seems is mutual.


“He’s a serious guy, and has a nice personality and is compassionate,” Itai said. “Every member likes him, and as a player, we can rely on him.”


Itai said he knows it is tough for Ellebie, as the lone American, to carry the burden of the defense himself.


“If we had a strong defensive end, he would be able to do more. He has to do it himself, so there’s only so much he can do. That’s not his problem, it’s the team’s. We have to come up with a game plan that makes better use of him.”


Off the field, Ellebie is enjoying his first chance to live abroad, and looks at one of the positive aspects of moving from a potential championship team like IBM, which is based in Yachiyo, Chiba Prefecture, to a midlevel club like Tokyo Gas, which practices in Koto Ward in the capital.


“When I was in IBM in Chiba, it was a lot different from being in Tokyo,” Ellebie said. “There wasn’t much to do out there, it’s like an isolated town. But being here in the city, it’s a lot of fun.”