For a while now, Fresno State’s Jamal Ellis and Justin Johnson have had careers picked out for after football:
Sure, an NFL career would be the ultimate goal, but the alternative seems like a natural fit considering both of their fathers are firefighters.
Arthur Ellis, 55, started his career in 1983 and is a battalion chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Jermaine Johnson, 42, has been with L.A. County Fire for 71/2 years and is an engineer in Compton.
Firefighting correlates to football in one primary way:
“Teamwork,” said Ellis, a junior cornerback listed as a backup to senior starter Charles Washington on the preseason depth chart.
Ellis has been around firefighters his entire life and has an appreciation for the situations his dad faces on the job.
It’s the closest thing to being on a team or a football team.
Fresno State defensive back Jamal Ellis on firefighting
“I’ve always been in stations in and out, just been exposed to that firefighting lifestyle,” he said. “Of course my dad is my role model.”
Before fall camp, Ellis spent time at his father’s firehouse in West Hollywood and saw immediately what it’s like to be a firefighter.
“We were there chilling, just hanging out and he got a call and I got to see all the firefighters gathering their things quickly, slide down the pole quickly and get the gear on and go save a life or prevent fires,” he said. “To see that … it’s kind of like football. Get things quick and (make a) play call and you have different things coming at you in different directions.
“You have to stay focused.”
Johnson, meanwhile, said one ride-along in 2010 when he visited his father’s firehouse got him thinking about becoming a firefighter.
“I saw how much my dad liked doing it and I know I’d like it as well,” said the senior inside receiver who’s expected to start the season opener Sept. 3 against Abilene Christian at Bulldog Stadium. “I like helping people and I can do that as a firefighter.”
I like helping people and I can do that as a firefighter.
Fresno State wide receiver Justin Johnson
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter admires how both players want to follow their fathers’ career paths.
“They saw the kind of devotion to duty that their dads had and being able to raise a family in a great way,” DeRuyter said. “It’s a great tribute to their fathers that they want to go in their footsteps.”
Ellis as a youth would dress up as a firefighter for Halloween along with younger brother Jarrett, but he knows that it’s a career with inherent risks.
“My dad told me stories about how dangerous it is, how things go down,” Ellis said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a career path I look forward to.”
Johnson, a business administration-sports marketing major who has already passed physical and written tests to become a firefighter, has also received some advice from his father when facing dangerous situations: “He always tells me, as long as you follow procedures and do everything you’re supposed to do and not try anything heroic, then you’ll be fine.
“If you take your time doing a lot of things as a firefighter and do it slow and steady,” Johnson added, “then you will get the job done. “
The physical demands of firefighting are similar to football and the two seem like a natural fit, said Arthur Ellis.
The elder Ellis also had some fatherly advice to his son, also a sports administration major: “I want him to finish his college education.
“Firefighting is a great career and fulfilling,” he said. “He’s adamant about getting his degree first and becoming a firefighter after that.”