Prep football: John Burroughs v. Maplewood Richmond Heights

Ezekiel Elliott of John Burroughs returns a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown against Maplewood-Richmond Heights High on Oct. 19, 2012. (Photo by Erik M. Lunsford / elunsford@post-dispatch.com)

He hears the whispers when he walks through the mall. He catches their eyes when he settles into the blocks on the track. It’s been like this for awhile, but it still strikes him as strange.

Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t understand what the big deal is.

“It’s pretty weird,” the John Burroughs senior standout said. “People kind of look at me funny, like when they have to race me they get kind of scared. I’m not used to that.”

You have to forgive the competition if they find Elliott to be something otherworldly. A 6-foot, 210-pound bolt of lightning, the 17-year-old Elliott has spent his high school career turning heads and dropping jaws. Whether on the football field or the track, it’s not every day someone with Elliott’s talents comes along.

The Ohio State-bound Elliott put on a show every week during football season. He finished his senior campaign by rushing for 2,155 yards and 40 touchdowns. He caught 16 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns and then wracked up 523 yards and six touchdowns on kick and punt returns. He led the Bombers to a 13-1 record and their third straight Class 3 title game. For the third straight season, though, Burroughs took runner-up honors.

In the winter he started at small forward for the basketball team. He averaged 13 points and six rebounds while shooting 54-percent from the field. The Bombers went 23-3, won the Metro League and finished as the district runner-up.

On the track this spring Elliott has run the table in all four of his open events. Thus far he is undefeated in the 100- and 200-meter sprints and the 110 and 300 hurdles. As a junior he was the runner-up in both hurdle events by a combined eight-tenths of a second. He also took fifth in the 100.

For his exceptional athletic achievements, Elliott is the STLhighschoolsports.com West County and overall male Athlete of the Year.

This is yet another nod to Elliott, who has spent his high school career collecting trophies, honors and recognition. With an abundance of medals, plaques, certificates and the like, Elliott took it upon himself to build his own trophy case. He said it’s still under construction but will eventually be a suitable home to display the baubles that have accompanied his career.

“Actually, I’ve been working on my trophy case since freshman year,” he said. “I’m finally finishing it up.”

The same can be said about his high school career. John Burroughs has had its share of gifted athletes walk the halls. But Elliott is in a class of his own. An elite performer on the football field, he finished his varsity career with 100 touchdowns and over 4,100 yards rushing. The Bombers went 40-4 the past three seasons with one loss to rival MICDS and the other three coming in the Class 3 title game.

On the basketball court the Bombers didn’t have much depth, but with Elliott in the midst of a talented core, they went 58-19 the past three seasons and were the district runners-up twice.

It has been more of the same on the track. He took third in the 110s as a freshman and followed that up with a championship as a sophomore. He took second in the 300s as a sophomore and eighth in the 100.

With all of his talents and a tireless work ethic, Elliott has crafted a legacy at Burroughs that could be remembered in any number of ways. But above all else, he wants it to be defined by who he was on and off the field.

“I just want to remembered as a guy, a regular guy who was a very humble person, an every day guy,” Elliott said. “I don’t want to be remembered as a prima donna.”

There are those that would accuse Elliott of being just that. When National Signing Day came and Elliott, who had verbally committed to Ohio State as a junior, left the door open the slightest bit that he could choose Mizzou, he made his announcement live on the local news. It wasn’t Elliott’s idea to broadcast it live. But, as the No. 1-ranked player in the state, his decision drew a considerable amount of interest. When he stuck with his verbal and signed to play for Ohio State, it left Mizzou fans feeling scorned. They lashed out at Elliott on social media and the internet. Just a few days removed from being serenaded by the student section at Mizzou Arena, Elliott was, in some eyes, a pariah.

“I don’t really get heat for it anymore. But that was definitely a tough time. That was a very hard decision,” he said. “I did get a lot of heat for choosing Ohio State. I believe it was the best choice for me.”

The subsequent fallout from his decision left a lasting impression on Elliott. It enlightened him to a side of people that he had not seen before.

“It definitely taught me a lesson. People are going to be your friend when it benefits them,” Elliott said. “When you no longer benefit them, you mean nothing to them. That’s the big lesson I learned from that whole process.”

As he reaches the finish line on his high school career, Elliott has accomplished more in four years than some could in a lifetime. But even with all his natural talent and his willingness to push through a grueling training regimen, Elliott appreciates all the help he’s had along the way. He understands his legacy at Burroughs has been built with the help of many hands, minds and hearts.

“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of great coaches, great mentors and athletes that were over me that taught me the ropes,” he said. “I’ve had great teammates, guys who you can go to battle with and compete with. I’m just very grateful for all the people that are around me and have supported me through this.”

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