He walks by the wall, slowly turning to point to the mass collection of backpacks, 12 of them in all, before opening a door to bedlam. The first to greet him is Koa, a mammoth American mastiff. Second is son Micah, who wants to tell his dad about what he learned at school after latching onto his dad’s leg.
Luther Elliss makes the rounds, finding each son or daughter, asking about his or her day, about what went right and what went wrong. The former University of Utah star defensive end and two-time Pro Bowler, drenched in sweat from a full day’s work on the football field, eventually completes the task.
Moving swiftly is Rebecca Elliss, who is in the middle of organizing 12 different dinners for her 12 kids ranging from 18 to 2. She and Luther already had three young children under 6 as he was emerging as a star in Detroit. That’s when they adopted their first child, which started the snowball. In the next 13 years, they had eight more kids.
Five are biological, seven are adopted, but the couple doesn’t publicly identify which children are adopted and which aren’t.
They all are Ellisses. All their children; Kaden, Olivia, Christian, Noah, Isaiah, Isabelle, Sophia, Jonah, Micah, Elijah, Mia and Colsen.
Isabelle begs Luther for his iPad, saying she needs it for homework. Sophia approaches her father and pokes his massive bicep, hoping to show him a worksheet from school. As Luther continues to greet and entertain his family, Sophia playfully rolls her eyes and moves on with her business.
Focus isn’t something that can be spared in the Elliss household, and Luther knows it. While he’s in the process of obtaining his licenses to become a financial advisor as well as acting a spokesman for the NFL, he is in his first year coaching the offensive and defensive lines at Judge Memorial High School, where Kaden stars as the starting quarterback.
Luther is back in his comfort zone, his competitive juices flowing once again. He coaches with a thunderous voice, his patented smile and flip-flops.
It’s been too long, his family said. Luther Elliss and his relationship with football is an elaborate string of roads and roadblocks that stretches back four decades. And he knew he needed to come back.
"Winning comes second," Luther retorts.
Return to the field
Sitting in the dining room in their home in the shadow of Mount Olympus, Luther and Rebecca Elliss pause. Rebecca met her husband 21 years ago when the two were athletes at the University of Utah. Rebecca swam for the Utes, and Luther did what Luther did. He got after the quarterback. He was a consensus All-American in 1994 and the 20th pick in the 1995 NFL draft.
They think of an appropriate answer.
What has football done for this family?
It took them to places they’d never imagined.
It made them millionaires.
It played a part in their declaring bankruptcy.
It made them unbreakable.
Two-year-old Colsen, who already has had two heart surgeries in his young life, squats on the elongated wooden dinner table. He wraps his small arms around a large football as Luther prepares his answer.
"I think football, overall, kind of helped to solidify what the Elliss name means," Luther said. "By that I mean it helped give us somewhat of an identity. It helped us, as far as myself and my wife, identify characteristics we want associated with our family: Hard work, integrity, excellence, intensity, competitors, not just talking about sports, but life in general."Next Page >
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