While working his shift at Freedom Mortgage in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, Eric Lofton received a phone call.
The former Owls’ offensive lineman picked up and heard an Ottawa Redblacks representative on the other end of the line. The Canadian Football League team wanted Lofton to send highlights from his Temple career, which ended when he graduated in December 2015.
Lofton signed with Ottawa in late February, only a couple of days after the call. Former defensive lineman Avery Ellis signed with Ottawa on May 8. The two will arrive in Canada’s capital city on Tuesday and will participate in the team’s three-day rookie camp from Wednesday to Friday.
“It means a lot to take one of your brothers up there with you to know that you’re not going to be going through stuff alone and to know that our mindset is the same,” Lofton said. “We’ve got to work our way from the bottom again.”
“That’s going to be like old times,” Ellis said. “Me and Eric Lofton, we went against each other almost every day during camp, so I would assume the same thing is going to happen once we get up there.”
Lofton became the Owls’ starting right tackle in 2014 and displayed his versatility as a redshirt senior in 2015. He played in every game and started at three different positions on the offensive line to earn first-team American Athletic Conference selection.
He had tryouts with the Philadelphia Eagles and the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes in May 2016 and tried out for the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul in August. All three ended the same way.
“‘Hey, I like you. We can’t keep you. Maybe next year,’” Lofton said coaches told him.
“When you’re in college, you think this lasts forever,” he added. “Just move on to the next stage of football like you do in your whole life, but once the phone stops ringing, you have to take every rep, every game, every practice, every workout, you have to treat it like it’s your last because you never know when it will be.”
Ellis played all 14 games as a redshirt senior last season. He recorded 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and blocked two punts, both of which led to Temple scoring drives.
During the Owls’ spring training camp this year, Ellis helped with the team’s operations as a way to honor his scholarship as he studied toward his master’s in sports business, which he intends to finish next spring.
Ellis arrived at the practice facility at 10th and Diamond streets around 5 a.m. to see what the coaching staff needed to be done during the individual practice periods. During practice, typically from 9 to 11 a.m., Ellis sometimes walked the sideline with a laminated play sheet to help the defense with play calls.
After practice, Ellis stayed at Edberg-Olson Hall until around 3 p.m. to help with making sure players attended their classes and other needs. He went to class from 5:30 to 8 p.m., worked out until around 11:30 p.m. and did it again the next day.
“Honestly, I became more knowledgeable of the game in that short span of time,” Ellis said. “It gave me the opportunity to really sit down and study football and see football in like a different light, which I normally wouldn’t see as a player.”
Former coach Matt Rhule offered Ellis the opportunity to stay with the program as a graduate assistant if he didn’t have a chance to play professional football. Coach Geoff Collins would have kept him as well, Ellis said.
But Redblacks Director of Player Personnel Jean-Marc Edmé contacted Ellis through Twitter after Temple’s season ended, and offered Ellis an opportunity in Ottawa if he didn’t land a spot in the NFL. Ellis said his agent talked with a handful of NFL teams, but he didn’t receive any calls after the NFL Draft ended on April 29.
Ellis and Lofton continue a Temple pedigree in Ottawa. Henry Burris, the Owls’ starting quarterback from 1993-96, led Ottawa to a win in the 104th Grey Cup in November. Burris retired in January after 17 seasons in the CFL.
Lofton looks forward to meeting Burris, and Ellis briefly communicated with Burris through Instagram.
“He said, ‘Go up there and make Temple proud,’” Ellis said. “So that’s what I plan on doing.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling. Follow The Temple News @TTN_Sports and @TheTempleNews.