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Eagles kicker Jake Elliott is a rookie. (AP)

Lyons Township’s Jake Elliott unlikely journey from tennis to the Super Bowl

SHARE Lyons Township’s Jake Elliott unlikely journey from tennis to the Super Bowl
SHARE Lyons Township’s Jake Elliott unlikely journey from tennis to the Super Bowl

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Jake Elliott’s senior season at Lyons Township High School had ended. It was December 2012, and the kicker still didn’t have a scholarship offer to play college football. He figured he could play tennis in college, the sport at which he first excelled — Illinois State was interested — but he probably still would have to pay tuition.

“I went around to a bunch of different football recruiting camps and realized that was the best shot to get a free education,” he said. “Tennis doesn’t offer a lot of full scholarships.”

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His football camp visits, however, drew little interest.

“Nothing,” he said.

He decided to try one more time, driving to Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, for a Kohl’s showcase camp after his senior season.

The day after the showcase, his phone rang. Memphis eventually became the first — and only — FBS school to offer him a full ride. His second offer was a partial scholarship to North Dakota.

“It feels like forever ago, but it’s not that far back,” said Elliott, who grew up in Western Springs.

Elliott, a rookie, will kick for the Eagles in the Super Bowl.

His path is as unusual as that of any player in the Super Bowl. As a high school freshman, he volunteered to try a field goal during a Lyons pep rally. Coaches liked his form and athleticism on his only attempt and tried to get him to play. Two years later, they finally convinced him.

Elliott nailed a 52-yard game-winner to beat Oak Park-River Forest in 2011. As a senior, he made 15 of 21 field-goal attempts and booted 50 kickoffs for touchbacks.

He also stood out at Memphis. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkow-ski first met Elliott after his freshman season four years ago. A Memphis alum, Gostkowski spent the month before training camp working out at his alma mater.

“From the moment I saw him kick, I was like, ‘This guy’s gonna be really good,’ ” Gostkowski said. “I’ve seen other kickers that have played in college, but they didn’t stand out like Jake did.

“His leg strength, and just his poise and his confidence, it’s not something you can really teach.”

Elliott, who set American Athletic Conference records with 445 points and 81 field goals, was drafted in the fifth round by the Bengals. He was cut Sept. 3.

Elliott’s poise comes from tennis. Despite his size — even now, he stands only 5-9, 170 pounds — he grew up trying to overpower foes.

“You really have to be mentally strong to come through in big situations,” he said.

Elliott made a 61-yard kick as time expired to beat the Giants 27-24 in Week 3. Quarterback Carson Wentz had promised Elliott, who was signed two weeks earlier, his $32,000 game check if he made it.

Wentz wound up donating the check to the charity of Elliott’s choice. The win ignited a nine-game winning streak and instilled confidence in Elliott and his teammates.

“That’s when we realized this could be a special team,” he said.

Elliott called this season a “crazy journey,” but he knows nothing will top Sunday.

“It’ll be more of a reflection period after this game, and I’ll have a chance to really look back on it,” Elliott said. “Obviously, I appreciate the ride I’ve been on.”

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@patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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