SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For a couple of years, former University of Utah All-American Luther Elliss could be found helping the football team at his alma mater where he thought perhaps coaching might be in his future.
He was living in Salt Lake with his large family, still getting back on his feet after losing nearly everything because of some poor business decisions following a successful nine-year NFL career.
Elliss and his wife had started a non-denominational church and soon after he got a call from Denver Broncos’ coach Gary Kubiak asking him to be the team’s chaplain. After prayerfully considering the offer, Elliss accepted and now serves as the Broncos’ spiritual advisor.
It’s been working out great for Elliss and for Denver players, who can’t say enough good things about Elliss and the influence he’s having on the team in a year they’ve reached the Super Bowl.
“I’ve been getting to know him on day-to-day basis since I’ve been here,” said Shiloh Keo, a fourth-year safety out of the University of Idaho. “Great guy, strong Christian — he’s been really helping me grow in my walk and the presence of God is so strong in him.
“It’s so encouraging seeing a man of God on a day-to-day basis and I have a lot to relate to with him. We’re both Polynesian and both grew up in similar households. So he’s just a great guy I can trust and go to, to ask anything. I just love being able to get to know him.”
Sam Brenner, a former Ute like Elliss, remembers his chaplain from his days in Salt Lake and the two have a special bond.
“He was one of the first people to greet me when I came to the facility to work out,” Brenner said of Elliss. “We had met at Utah a few times. He’s a great guy, someone I’m proud to be a fellow Utah Ute with. He brings great words as a spiritual advisor. He’ll lead prayers before the game. If you ever want one-on-one to talk about anything, he’s there for you, any kind of guidance, life advice or spiritual advice. He’s always there for the guys. He’s a tremendous individual.”
Elliss is enjoying his new job, which gives him the chance to be connected to football while helping young men at the same time.
"I love the word, I love sharing the gospel and doing those things,” he told the Associated Press. “We helped start a church in Salt Lake City, and being a part of that was reaffirming and helped me to understand that this is a part of my DNA, it's always going to be me. So when Coach Kubiak gave me this opportunity, it was like OK, we knew it was the right thing to do.”
The 42-year-old Ellis originally came to Utah out of Mancos, Colorado, and quickly established himself on the Ute defensive line where he was a three-time all-WAC player and a consensus All-American in 1994 when he was also the WAC Defensive Player of the year.
He was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, where he played for eight seasons before finishing his career for a year with Denver.
His experience of being one of the top-paid players in the NFL and then going bankrupt, humbled him and he also shares that experience with Denver players besides giving spiritual advice.
"I have been through that,” he told AP. “I've been through the highs and lows and those types of things, and being able to relate to the guys, I think, is very key."
Brenner has been impressed with the positive manner Elliss brings to the players.
“At one time he was one of the highest-paid players in the league and fell on hard times,” Brenner said. “Now he is still living his life and one of the happiest guys I know.”
Elliss is with the team this week for the Super Bowl, but has been keeping a low profile. He doesn’t want attention for himself, rather he’s trying to help the Denver players with their spiritual needs, while giving them important advice about life.
"I've always had a heart for ministry," Elliss said. "And I just thought if I could go back to the NFL, I would want to go back as a minister, to love on these guys, and I can also share my experience and help them shape their future."