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Building up Big Ten athletics: Alexandria alum and Gophers associate AD returning to speak

Alexandria native Scott Ellison stands in the hallway overlooking the men's basketball practice facility in the Athletes Village that opened in January at the University of Minnesota. Ellison, the Associate Athletic Director for the Gophers who oversees all the athletic facilities at the University of Minnesota, will give this year's Ed Talk presentation at AAHS on March 18. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Alexandria native Scott Ellison has seen quite the transformation in his 29 years working in the athletic department at the University of Minnesota.

The Gophers' associate athletic director oversees all athletic facilities at the school where he is in charge of daily operations and capital projects. When Ellison arrived in 1988, the two major sports facilities on campus were Williams Arena for basketball and Mariucci Arena for hockey. This winter, the Gophers opened up their brand-new Athletes Village - a 338,000 square foot facility to accommodate the nearly 750 University of Minnesota athletes.

It was a move that helps the Gophers keep pace in the competitive arm's race of Big Ten athletics when it comes to recruiting.

"It's been a real journey for the University of Minnesota and myself personally because I've been here for every major project that's come along since Williams Arena and Mariucci," Ellison said. "To see the growth, and to see the benefits to the department and the student athletes and the greater state of Minnesota has been really enjoyable for me to see."

Ellison, a 1977 graduate of Jefferson High School, will be in Alexandria on March 18 to deliver the Ed Talk presented by the Alexandria Education Foundation. He will talk about the facilities projects that have happened under his watch, the coaches and athletes who have come through the school and how these new sports facilities for the Gophers are designed to help the student athletes academically, athletically and nutritionally.

Despite the name, the athletes don't live there, but Athletes Village gives student-athletes an opportunity to tackle all of the tasks necessary in these areas under one roof.

"One thing we talk a lot about with facilities is we're taking kids from the backpack to the briefcase experience," Ellison said. "To come in as freshmen, they need to get bigger, stronger, faster to compete. They need to get their academics in order. Some are really good students, some are not really good students who need the help that we provide. The final step is the leadership component, the going beyond college sports component. Only 2 percent of all student athletes go pro in their sport, so 98 percent are looking for a job."

Among the features of the Athletes Village is a Leadership Center where student-athletes can practice for or set up job interviews with potential employers as they get set to graduate.

The $166 million project features new football and basketball practice facilities. The football weight room is 16,000 square feet. There is an academic center with 34 tutoring rooms. Video boards replaying Gophers highlights line the wall of the main entrance into the building.

"It took care of academics and nutrition for all our student athletes," Ellison said. "It took care of practice facilities for basketball and football, and really was kind of the vision of the president and at the time (former Athletic Director) Norwood Teague when he was here."

Teague left the university in August of 2015 amid sexual harassment allegations. The University of Minnesota hired Mark Coyle to replace him as athletic director, someone Ellison called the perfect person to come in and help close out the project.

A total of $108 million in private funding has been raised for Athletes Village. The rest of the project was paid for with long- and short-term debt. The school will continue to fundraise for the project and any debt not covered through donations will be paid for out of the athletic department's operating budget on an annual basis. No state funds were used.

Ellison said he has worked under more than a dozen athletic directors. He's been mid-project on facilities when there have been major personnel changes, including coaching changes for revenue-producing programs like football and basketball.

He called it a process to get to where the university is today with its athletic facilities, but he has recently seen the opening of TCF Bank Stadium for football in 2009 and now an Athletes Village that was years in the making.

"It's unbelievable," Ellison said. "I was trying to find a different word, but that's really it. It's unbelievable. It was 2012 when we first started talking about this project. To open the doors in January of 2018, you walk in and there's a real sense of pride, not with what I personally accomplished, but of what these student-athletes have now compared to what they had before. That's what I get out of it is seeing the student-athletes enjoy using the space."

Alexandria Education Foundation Ed Talk

Alexandria native and current University of Minnesota Associate Athletic Director Scott Ellison will deliver this year's Ed Talk at Alexandria Area High School on March 18. Social starts at 5:30 p.m. that day, with the presentation starting at 7.

Tickets are $25 for adults and no charge for students. Tickets can be purchased at Cherry Street Books, Elden's Fresh Foods or online at www.alexandria.k12.mn.us/pac.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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