- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - About 2,500 miles separate Saltillo, Mississippi from Ketchikan. That is also about the size of the gap between the two towns’ football cultures.

Ketchikan High School senior lineman Hayden Elliott made that long journey to Ketchikan, moving from a school that eats, sleeps and breathes football.

“Football was huge. Everything in Mississippi is all about football,” Elliott said. “(Saltillo) was very successful. They make it deep into the playoffs. The coaches are very tough and uptight. If everything isn’t in tip-top shape, then we had to run a lot.”

Elliott left behind a winning program that sent its best players to Division I schools, such as the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, and came to Alaska to begin a new stage in his life and a chance to finish school.

“I just wanted to try a new place and have a fresh start,” Elliott said. “My grandparents live in Ketchikan; I called them and asked them if I could come up here. I honestly had no intention of going to school; I was just going to get a job and work. They talked me into going back to school for my senior year.”

Since coming to Alaska, Elliott’s grandparents, James and Lila Elliott, have shown him around the town. He has enjoyed the outdoor-life aspect of Ketchikan.

“They gave me a place to stay, food and shelter. They have shown me all the great things about Ketchikan. I’ve hiked up Dude Mountain and Deer Mountain. I’ve also caught bigger fish than I’ve ever caught before,” Elliott said. “They have inspired me to do a lot of things in life I thought were never possible.”

Elliott’s teammates and coaches have been very accepting so far. Along with his high talent level, senior quarterback T. McBurnette said Elliott’s personality brings a positive vibe to the field.

“He brings a different energy to the team,” McBurnette said. “He’s that guy where if you’re having a bad day, if you look at him, he will put you in a better mood.”

Head coach Les Silva said Elliott’s knowledge of the game is rubbing off on his teammates.

“He can play defensive end, linebacker, fullback and can kick the ball.?He’s setting an example out here for these guys,” Silva said. “He’s made friends real fast; the kids all like him. He’s a character out here, and it’s good for these kids to see a real, true country boy.”

Elliott enjoys how the Ketchikan coaches are personable and have better relationships with their players.

“The coaches here like to interact with the players, interact with you and get to know how your life has been. If you need anything, you can ask them,” he said. “The coaches back home, they were all strictly football. They didn’t help you out if you needed something.”

He also likes the direction of the Kayhi football program.

“I like the heart that they have here in wanting to build a football program,” he said. ” I think they’re doing a great job with it. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

Silva said having a player like Elliott will even the playing field with teams from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

“He practiced (in Mississippi) for hours with two-a-days,” Silva said. “It looks like he is taking it easy a bit (in practice) and waiting for gameday to come. I told him it looks like he has been three-quartering it. He can play some football.”

Elliott’s teammates are well aware of how much he can offer the team.

“Whichever side (of the offensive line) he is on, I won’t have to worry about that side,” McBurnette said.

Even though he departed from the heart of football country, Elliott said he believes he has what it takes to play football in college, an opportunity that wasn’t on his radar before he came to Ketchikan.

“(Where I go) depends on scholarships for football or baseball, but I’m definitely going to college,” he said. “I think I have the same opportunity here as anywhere else. It’s not the size of the school, it’s the heart of the player.”

While in Alaska, Elliott plans on learning as much as he can about the state and the people who live here. He even expressed interest in working on a fishing boat next summer. Wherever he goes after his senior year, this won’t be a football season Elliott or anyone else on the team will forgot anytime soon.

“I want to get to know about the history of Alaska and getting to know the type of people who live here,” Elliott said. “So far it’s been amazing; everybody has been so polite and courteous. I really like it here.”


Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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