Mark Ellis had his headphones on and was getting ready for Hofstra’s lacrosse season finale this past Saturday at Fairfield when teammate Nate Drickamer was trying to get his attention. Drickamer kept tapping Ellis and tried to show him something a few times but the defensive midfielder was getting zoned in and getting focused for the game.
Finally, Drickamer was able to let Ellis know that he had just been selected by the New York Lizards in the Major League Lacrosse Rookie Selection Draft.
“He said look and kept tapping me repeatedly and said look,” said Ellis, a graduate-student with the Pride who is expected to receive a master’s degree in sports science later this month. “Immediately after I found out, my mom was calling me and my friends are calling me with congratulations. I’m like what is going on right now?”
What was going on was that Ellis, who was a three-sport star at Garden City High School on Long Island competing in lacrosse, football and indoor track, found out that he would be starting his professional lacrosse career on the same field as he has played the last two years. The Lizards, who also play at Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University, stunned Ellis by selecting him.
“I was surprised and very grateful that it happened,” said Ellis who came to Hofstra in January 2018 after graduating from Stony Brook. “It’s an awesome feeling. I always want to play at the highest level.”
Ellis played 30 games for Stony Brook in 2014 and 2015 but then red-shirted in 2016 and sat out the 2017 season with a knee injury. Missing those two seasons afforded him the opportunity to play two seasons at Hofstra, the first college that he visited when he was in high school. Ellis wound up choosing Stony Brook over Hofstra because he wanted a change of scenery.
After all, Garden City was pretty good in lacrosse and played many post-season games at Hofstra. Ellis was a member of two New York State Championship teams with the Trojans and the roads to those titles went through playoff games at Hofstra. But he wanted to go to college elsewhere.
“I told my mom I’m not going to Hofstra because we played there all the time,” said Ellis who played in 28 games for the Pride over the last two seasons tallying three goals and an assist as a defensive midfielder. “I refused to go. The best thing that ever happened to me was tearing my ACL because if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have left Stony Brook and transferred and would never have received my masters.”
The fact that Ellis went on to play lacrosse in college and is now set to embark on a professional career is worthy of a movie script because this wasn’t supposed to happen. Ellis didn’t start playing lacrosse until the 8th grade and didn’t have a very good first experience with the sport. He came home from school one day and was working on scooping up ground balls off the concrete in his yard.
“The next day my whole mesh was ripped,” recalled Ellis. That was my first experience with a lacrosse stick. I honestly hated lacrosse. Honestly from the bottom of my heart I did not want to play lacrosse in college. That was the last thing that I wanted to do.”
When Ellis was in high school, many people tried to convince him that he could be a really good lacrosse player but he didn’t want to listen. He wanted to play football in college and his goal was to play in the NFL. But everyone, including his high school coach Steve Finnell, kept reminding him of just how great of a lacrosse player he could be.
Ellis just didn’t want to hear it.
“I just brushed them off,” said Ellis. “I didn’t call myself a lacrosse player until I got to college. I always thought I was an athlete. My friends were all good and I didn’t want to be the guy who wasn’t good. I just worked at it and worked at it. When coach started talking to me, I realized that people weren’t just blowing smoke. They were actually saying you’re pretty good at this.”
Good enough to be a New York Lizard, a team with a rich history in Major League Lacrosse and their sights set on their third championship in 2019. Led by General Manager Joe Spallina and legendary MLL Head Coach B.J. O’Hara, the Lizards have put together a talented roster and now they have added an important piece to their midfield with Ellis.
He played on the Shuart Stadium field at Hofstra in high school and in college and on May 31st he could very well run onto that same field as a New York Lizard in their home opener against Denver.
“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity,” said Ellis. “I’m really happy to be there. Being from Long Island, my family, siblings, teammates and coaches can watch me. I’ll be kind of a hometown hero. It’s a rare opportunity that a lot of people don’t get so I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
Who says you can’t go home again? But in the case of Mark Ellis, he never really left. He’s a Long Island native who learned how to love the sport of lacrosse and went on to play in college at Stony Brook and Hofstra on Long Island. Now, he’s going to be a professional lacrosse player for his hometown team.