BYU DB Keenan Ellis medically retiring after suffering severe neck injury last year

Ellis sat out all of 2021 after being rushed to a trauma center in BYU’s season opener

(David Becker | AP) BYU defensive back Keenan Ellis reacts to an apparent injury after defending against Arizona running back Michael Wiley during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Las Vegas.

BYU defensive back Keenan Ellis is medically retiring after suffering a severe neck injury a year ago.

The junior from San Diego missed all of 2021 after being involved in a head-first collision with Arizona receiver Jaden Mitchell. Immediately, Ellis lost consciousness and fell to the ground.

He was transferred to a local trauma center in Las Vegas after being immobilized on a stretcher. By the next morning, Ellis was walking around. He said he did not remember the hit.

“It’s sad and unfortunate,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake told The Salt Lake Tribune. “He has next level ability to play in the NFL. He is talented and can do a lot of other things. He will still be involved with the team, it just won’t be on the field.”

Throughout the offseason, people within BYU’s program expected Ellis to return to football. He was running and performing non-contact workouts this winter. His mobility and strength increased.

But as Ellis saw multiple head and neck specialists, the consensus was he could not risk taking another collision.

“We were really hopeful he would return,” Sitake said. “With him we saw him moving and running. All of it was working well. But the complications he could get with another hit like that just weren’t worth the risk.”

Ellis appeared in 13 games in his college career, starting his final game against Arizona. He tallied 22 tackles and had five passes defended. Ellis would have likely contended for a starting position in 2022.

“We have had lots of conversations. I feel good about the decision,” Sitake said. “As a person, it just sucks because he is such a great football player.”