Almost nine miles southwest of where Atiyyah Ellison currently coaches is Faurot Field.
The Battle head football coach played at the home of the Missouri Tigers from 2002-04 in the second through fourth years of Gary Pinkel’s tenure.
He remembers fondly being part of the MU team that ended its 24-year losing streak to Nebraska in 2003. Ellison remembers more about the practices and times in the locker room than the games themselves.
That brotherhood is what the 38-year-old hopes to bring into the Spartans’ locker room each day.
“Me being a representative of Mizzou in all the things that I do, they changed me, they changed the person I was coming in,” Ellison said. “So, you carry some pride being a couple miles from where you learned so many good lessons. You want to instill those into the next generation coming up.”
Ellison has completed his first season as Battle’s second-ever head football coach, taking over last May for Justin Conyers, who led the Spartans for their first six seasons.
Ellison served as Battle’s defensive line coach from 2013-18 and was on their staff for the MSHSAA Class 5 state championship, its first year of postseason eligibility.
Now, like every other head coach in the country, Ellison is navigating the coronavirus pandemic by balancing a few factors.
It’s his job to get the Spartans in the best shape possible to be successful this fall, but with social distancing guidelines in place nationally, in-person team meetings can’t happen.
Ellison maintains you can’t make up for lost time, so he’s sent each of his players daily home workouts since quarantine started.
“My boys, I'm sure, are ready to go back to school because I've been working them out pretty hard, just about every day,” Ellison said. “I'm not the best home school teacher, but I did my best.”
As Ellison awaits word from Columbia Public Schools as to when organized team activities can resume, the one-year anniversary of his hiring has passed.
He coached at Boonville for one season before making the jump to Battle. Before that, he played for seven NFL teams including the Chiefs, Ravens, Jaguars and Patriots from 2005-10.
Before coming to MU, Ellison was a standout at Parkway South and at Coffeyville Community College (Kan.). He takes lessons learned from all of the above and adds in some of his own reasoning for his own coaching style.
He’s not the lone Gary Pinkel-era Missouri football alumnus to be a high school football head coach. Robert Steeples led DeSmet to a Class 6 state championship last winter. Will Franklin is the head coach at Vashon.
There are several others as well, including Michael Egnew, who is about to start his second season leading Tolton.
“That’s just kind of the nature of the business,” Egnew said. “Hopefully, the players kind of stick around and kind of have an association with Columbia. So, I think it's a very cool thing. And hopefully, it helps each of the schools that they each have a coach that played for Mizzou.”
When Egnew was hired as Tolton’s head coach last April, his first call to build a staff was to Ellison, who told the Trailblazers’ coach he was in the running for the Spartans’ gig.
Should Battle have gone in a different direction, Ellison would’ve considered making the shift to Tolton.
That Missouri reunion wasn’t meant to be for the moment. And while Egnew, who graduated from MU in 2012, didn’t play with Ellison, they did have a few classes together as the defensive lineman came back to Columbia to finish his degree while in the NFL.
Ellison takes tremendous pride in coaching at Battle because he’s been there since the genesis of the football program.
“It’s one of those feelings where you feel some ownership of the school and the kids and the programs that we have here,” Ellison said. “And so, like when you hear some of the negative things they’re saying, I'm here myself. So, I don't see the way other people look at us because I'm here every day.
“We have great kids here. We’ve got a lot of good programs. For the most part, most of the kids will do the right thing. You're going to have kids who make bad decisions at any high school, but I don't hear enough good things promoted because we got a lot of good stuff going on here.”
In reflecting on his first season as a head coach, Ellison goes back to the quote “Kids want to know how much you care before they care how much you know” as he tries to further create relationships with any student.
No player is the same, and he saw firsthand how Pinkel learned from his early days in Columbia to eventually lead Missouri to the No. 1 ranking in the country during the fall of 2007.
“I feel like we were a pivotal class,” Ellison said of the 2004 MU football seniors. “We brought a lot of energy and a lot of attention to detail and we worked hard.
“Those young guys, they were in the program, came into their own. I like to feel like they learned from us just like I learned from the people before me.”