While gazing across the Dalhousie University campus, Tigers men’s soccer team player Jack Ellis feels like he’s been here before.
And he has, kind of.
Ellis was born in Halifax to Mark and Carla Ellis, but moved to England when he was two years old. He grew up in Liverpool, England, a city with a wet, maritime climate much like Nova Scotia. The Dalhousie Gazette asked if he agreed with those similarities.
“Yeah. The weather, less so. It’s normally torrential rain at home.”
He came back for one visit to Halifax while still a child, not returning again until making the decision to study at Dal and joining men’s soccer training camp in mid-August.
Despite never really living in Halifax, the city and the university feel like home.
A family history at Dal
You might recognize the names of Jack’s parents, especially if you’ve followed Dal soccer closely since the 1990s. Mark Ellis played for the very team Jack competes with now, a key cog in Dal’s Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU, now U SPORTS) championship effort in 1995, followed by a bronze in 1997. He was also the team MVP in 1996 and 1997.
Carla Ellis (neé Perry) led the women’s squad to a CIAU championship the season prior to the men’s title, after finishing second place in 1993. She also won two team MVPs, topped with three first-team All-Canadian selections from the national body.
Clearly, Jack is already well-connected to Dal soccer.
“Mom and dad speak so highly of the university. Without them, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “Dal was pretty well a no-brainer after I spoke to Alan [Jazic, his coach]. When Dal was on the table, [mom and dad] were really excited because they know what it’s like to play at Dal. You don’t get that anywhere else, that home-away-from-home kind of feeling.”
Carla and Mark know exactly what their son means. From their years at Dal, they said the well-rounded experience on campus is what makes the experience memorable two and a half decades after donning the black and gold.
“It was a great experience at Dal, being able to get your degree and combine it with playing soccer,” Carla said to the Gazette via phone call from Liverpool. “The girls that were my lifelong friends that I played club soccer with were part of the Dal team, so they are really great memories.”
“Initially, you remember the games, winning and stuff like that. But I think the things important to me now are the friendships I got from then that I still have now,” Mark said, also on a call from across the Atlantic Ocean.
Returning to his roots
Jack always thought about studying in Canada. He said he knew what opportunities lay ahead for him in Canada academically, like the management program he’s now enrolled in at Dal.
But it was Jack’s initial discussion with Jazic that had him sold on the Tigers.
“Dal was always in the back of my mind,” Jack said. “I knew if I would go to Canada, [Dal] would be a good place. And I always wanted to come back to Halifax since I don’t come here often. So when I do come here, it’s kind of for a special occasion.”
As excited as they were to see Jack take up his interest in Dal, Mark and Carla said they, understandably, had mixed emotions seeing him move so far away.
“It’s a little bizarre. He always had a sense that was something he wanted, but actually seeing it happen is bizarre but wonderful,” Mark said. Carla and he travelled to Nova Scotia with Jack in late August to help him settle in. “[The stay] went all too quickly, I’m afraid.”
For Carla, a Cole Harbour native, it was her first time in the province in 14 years.
“It was a bit surreal. We’re super proud of him and we know he will enjoy it. It felt like we were going back in time there for a bit,” she said.
“Them showing me around was so helpful, especially coming from so far away,” Jack said. “Having those family roots here really helped me as it is difficult moving away.”
Advice from the folks
Early in the season as a rookie, there are lots of thoughts and emotions to absorb. Thankfully for Jack, his parents are at his disposal for advice, having gone through the same thing.
“There’s no pressure on him, he’s there to enjoy the experience. Even though it’s a bit of a different game in Canada, there’s still a ball and 11 players on the field,” Carla said. “The type of player he is, he can adjust no problem.”
Mark, who’s coached Jack since he was four, knows what he’s capable of too.
“He’s a highly competitive lad. If he relaxes there and enjoys it, you’ll see the real player in him,” Mark said. “He doesn’t need to do anything more than that.”
Jack said he knows his mission is to write his own chapter in the Ellis family history at Dal. At the same time, he said his parents’ experiences can be used to his advantage.
“It’s brilliant how mom and dad accomplished so many things here. Sometimes, having some of that pressure helps you get to that next level,” Jack said. “I want to hit those heights with all the lads on the team and go as far as possible over the next few years.”