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A year ago, Ed Ellis was a Division I-AA All-American offensive lineman at the University at Buffalo. Today, he's a rookie with the New England Patriots, waiting for an opportunity to play.

"It's been a little difficult. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," said the Patriots' fourth-round draft pick said during a recent visit back to his alma mater. "But the important thing is that I'm here. I say to myself all the time, 'Wow! You have made it. You are in the National Football League.' "

No other UB graduate has been able to say for more than three decades. Ellis credits coach Craig Cirbus and his staff for developing him into a professional.

"It took a lot of yelling and screaming and pushing and pulling, but they believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself," Ellis said. "They are building something special here. I'm a living example of that."

Ellis is 6-foot-7 and weighs about 330 pounds, but he looks much trimmer than his college days. He has not seen any action yet, but he hopes that will end Sunday with the Buffalo Bills coming to Foxboro, Mass.

"Even if it's just one play," said Ellis, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on Monday. "It might sound crazy, but I would love to play against Bruce Smith, Bryce Paup and those guys."

Barring an injury to a starter, Ellis probably won't get that chance. He backs up All-Pro left tackle Bruce Armstrong, who is one of the most durable players in the NFL. The 11th-year veteran will play in his 154th game for the Patriots, which will put him eighth on the club's all-time list.

While he sits, Ellis is learning all the tricks of the trade from one of the league's best.

"Bruce has taught me a lot, even how to cheat," Ellis said with a wink of an eye and a hearty laugh. "He could do something wrong and it would be right. That's how good he is. The biggest lesson he's taught me is how to be a professional on and off the field. What a great teacher for me to have."

Someday, Ellis will step on the field for the Patriots. It may not be this year, but he's patient.

"The coaches told me this is like a redshirt year in college," he said. "It's a time for me to watch and learn. I just have to keep working hard and be ready. I know my time will come. Right now, I'm having a ball living this dream. I hope it never ends."

Cirbus undaunted by struggles

In the throes of a football season headed in the wrong direction, UB's Cirbus insists progress is being made. It's just that the public and the media can't see it.

Here's what most of us see: The Bulls (2-4) have lost three straight games, including 50-0 and 55-0 blowouts to Ohio University and Connecticut, respectively, and an embarrassing loss at home to West Chester, a mid-level Division II team.

Now they have to face Youngstown State, the consensus No. 1 team in Division I-AA this week. There's also a season-ending road trip to No. 3 Villanova, which hung 64 points on West Chester in one half.

Progress probably is being made. It just won't show up in the win-loss record.

Those who see the Bulls' 2-4 mark as a disappointment probably read too much into last year's 8-3 showing.

Cirbus says he is not concerned with public perceptions. More than anyone else, he knew how tough a challenge this season would be.

Consider that 34 of the 60 players who made the trip to UConn last Saturday were redshirt or true freshmen. Only four of the nine seniors on that travel squad are four-year players.

"We're picking at this the right way," Cirbus said. "It's taken more time than I would like in certain areas, but I know that we're young."

Too young to be expected to match last year's success. Cirbus has two years to get his team ready to enter the Mid-American Conference, which has several teams that have proven capable of competing with the power conferences. He deserves time to see if he can pull it off.

Boyes welcomes week off

Buffalo State coach Jerry Boyes usually hates bye weeks during the football season. This weekend is an exception, not because the Bengals (3-2) are coming off a big win over Brockport, but the extra days give him a chance to get some extra preparation for his young team.

"The timing is perfect," Boyes said. "Hopefully we'll make the most of it."

Number one among his concerns is turnovers. The Bengals have a turnover ratio of minus-nine. No matter what he does during the off week, that area must improve for Buffalo State to be a playoff contender this year.

Locals earn football honors

Canisius tailback Nick Adinolfi (West Seneca West) and linebacker Billy Joyce (Frontier) were named to the Eastern College Athletic Conference's weekly honor roll for their performances. Adinolfi set a school and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference record with 50 carries while rushing for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the Griffs' 14-7 win over Iona. Joyce made seven tackles, recovered a fumble and preserved the win with an interception with 1:09 left.

Also on the ECAC honor roll is Buffalo State freshman flanker Derek Baker (South Park), who caught four passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in the Bengals' stirring 13-10 overtime win over Brockport.

Quarterback Bryan Roland (St. Joe's) earned his second straight MAAC rookie of the week honor after throwing for 95 yards last Saturday.

Despite the loss to Canisius, Iona strong safety Jeff Bridges (Timon/St. Jude) was named MAAC defensive player of the week after making 12 tackles -- including eight solos and two for losses -- and returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Sophomore Nick DePaolo, who kicked the tying and winning field goals for Buffalo State, received the ECAC's weekly special recognition award.

Niagara No. 2 in hockey poll

Entering its second season as a Division I program, Niagara's ice hockey team is already getting some respect. The Purple Eagles are picked to finish second in the six-team ECAC West preseason coaches poll.

Niagara got three of the six first-place votes, but finished two points behind Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT has been No. 1 from beginning to end the past two seasons.

Niagara was second last season after being picked to finish fifth. The Purple Eagles will begin their first practice with the second annual Midnight Madness at 11 p.m. Tuesday night. It is open to the public.

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