If someone asked junior Kaden Elliss what is most important to him he would probably answer them in three words — faith, family, and football.
Elliss said he holds faith above all else for giving him a wonderful family and the ability to play football at a higher level.
Elliss said he has always had a knack for sport. Growing up he was involved with multiple different sports.
“When I was younger I started with gymnastics and soccer,” Elliss said. “Eventually I picked up basketball, played a few years of baseball but didn’t like that very much, then football. Basketball and football were the two biggest ones after middle school and in high school.”
Although he is now an Idaho football linebacker, Elliss said he didn’t always have a strong passion for football, but his father played a huge part in introducing him to the sport he now loves.
“I definitely didn’t have (passion) when I was younger — I was a soccer player and a gymnast,” Elliss said. “My dad played in the NFL and I knew that. Even though football wasn’t my favorite sport growing up, it kind of just happened.”
It wasn’t until Elliss was in middle school that he realized football was his sport.
“I’d say around my eighth-grade year when I thought this sport might be the one I want to play. What I liked about it was that it was challenging,” he said. “Football has a very different mental toughness with it, and I just kind of became obsessed with trying to master the sport.”
Like many kids and young athletes, Elliss said he looked up to a professional athlete as his role model, but unlike other kids that professional athlete was his father.
“He’s really showed me how to choose character through adversity,” Elliss said.
Elliss is the son of Luther Elliss, a former defensive tackle in the NFL who played ten years for the Lions and the Broncos, becoming a two-time pro bowler along the way. Elliss said he admires his father for many reasons beyond his athletic talents.
“He went bankrupt after playing football, and honestly seeing the way he grew from that and the way he ran to his faith and then his family in that situation made me idolize him more,” Elliss said. “Obviously growing up, your dad is always your idol, but sometimes as you get older you see maybe he isn’t as great as he is, but I’d say growing up he has showed me that he is that great, and he is an awesome man. I hope to be like him one day.”
Growing up Elliss said he didn’t want to be a football player at first, he wanted to be a scientist. Mainly due to his strong passion for the Pokemon franchise.
“I love Pokemon, and as a little kid you think anything is possible” he said. “I was like ‘Man, I want to be a scientist, so I can make Pokemon real one day.’”
Yet the older Elliss got, the more he said he realized he wanted to become a professional athlete.
“As I got a little more realistic, I always wanted to be an athlete,” he said. “If it was basketball season, I wanted to be a basketball player and when it was football season I wanted to be a football player. So definitely an athlete after I got past my little scientist phase.”
Elliss said that playing football at the collegiate level was always the goal, but playing for Idaho was a pleasant surprise.
“Never thought I’d end up at Idaho,” he said. “But I love it here now and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It was always the goal, always a dream, always something I somewhat expected of myself. It almost didn’t happen, but I was blessed to come here, to have this opportunity, and I love it.”
In high school, Elliss played quarterback and some defense at the defensive end position. He led his high school to their first state championship in 30 years, but when he got to Idaho he realized some things needed to change since he would be on defense full time.
“It was weird. I was very grateful to have a gray-shirt period because I was definitely not ready. I was 195 pounds and just played a little bit of safety in high school,” Elliss said. “In that time, I worked with some great coaches to try to get a feel for the position.”
One of those coaches was linebackers coach Eric Brown, who said he saw potential from Elliss immediately.
“I could tell right away he was a sharp kid, knew a lot about football, and wanted to be great,” Brown said. “Initially he was 195 pounds. And in almost a year he put on 25 pounds a muscle. He showed me he was devoted, and saw the effort and playmaking ability early.”
Elliss said Brown has helped shape his game tremendously.
“(Brown) has spent a lot of time with me” Elliss said. “That’s an awesome coach right there. He’s able to paint the picture for me, and tells me why I have to do what I have to do. He’s just so willing to put in the extra work with me and for me that it means the world to me. He’s awesome.”
Elliss said he thinks that his game has grown quite a bit since his freshman season.
“With all the time that Coach Brown has spent with me has helped me get a better knack for the ball. I ran around and tackled a lot but didn’t necessarily make the big play and last year I think I got to that,” Elliss said. “This year I want to put it all together, and find a way to poke that ball out.”
Brown said it was Elliss’ football intelligence that stuck out to him the most.
“His knowledge of everyone else’s position has really grown. His understanding of what everyone in the defense is doing and that has helped him play faster at his position,” he said.
The coach and player relationship between them has pushed both to be better.
“He’s an awesome kid,” Brown said. “He pushes me to be better, always asking questions. I think I push him to be better, I’m always him to do better to do more and he does the same with me. He’s an unbelievable young man, I love working with him. I love all my guys, but Kaden he is a great one.”
With his dad, Luther Elliss, also a part of the coaching staff as well, Elliss said he definitely believes he has the coaches around him to help him be successful.
“Seeing him here and the passion he carries every day is contagious,” Elliss said. “Seeing the passion, he and the other coaches bring everyday really pushes me every day and reminds me to enjoy this. The way he chooses to do it, and the way he brings the passion with that every single day is something I love and I think everybody feeds off of it.”
Elliss said having his brother, Christian Elliss, on the team with him now definitely brings some more fun to the game.
“It so much fun having him out there,” Elliss said. “Him and I have always competed very hard, and have always been against each other. Now that we are on the same team, that passion mixes together and it’s so much fun. Fun, is the best word for it.”
Elliss said his biggest motivation each game is most of the time one thing — his faith.
“What I really want is to honor Him, my lord and savior Jesus Christ, before every game by the way I play and the passion I bring,” Elliss said. “At the end of the day, it’s to honor Jesus Christ with the platform he has given me.”
Elliss’ ultimate career goal is to follow in his dad’s footsteps and play in the NFL.
“That’s something that I have to get a lot better for and I know that,” Elliss said. “But that is my goal and the goal I want to achieve, and work my tail off to achieve.”
After asking how he wants to be remembered after his time here at Idaho, it followed back to faith, family and football.
“I want to be remembered as a man who loves Jesus, a beast on the football field and everything else will follow after the first one,” Elliss said.
Chris Deremer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org