BYU football coach Kalani Sitake told the Deseret News Friday morning that cornerback Keenan Ellis is taking a medical retirement from football after sustaining a neck injury in the Cougars’ 2021 opener against Arizona.

Ellis, who started against the Wildcats in that game in Las Vegas before needing to be taken to a local hospital during the first quarter, will remain with the team through the 2022 season, Sitake said.

“It is really, really sad,” Sitake said. “We feel really good about the recommendation that we have (from medical experts), just about his overall health and livelihood. It sucks when you have a guy that is a starter and has the potential to play at the next level, and has worked really hard to get here.”

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Ellis, from Bonita Vista High in the San Diego area, is doing well in school and close to graduating.

“I am so happy with him, and what he’s done in school, and that he is going to get degree and things like that,” Sitake said. “He will still be around. Once a Cougar, always a Cougar. He just won’t be on the field.”

Sitake said Ellis is the only member of the team who will take a medical retirement that he is aware of. BYU will begin spring practices Monday in Provo.

Last October, Ellis told the Deseret News that he didn’t remember the collision with Arizona receiver Jaden Mitchell. He said he was working toward rejoining the team this spring.

“I am doing way better,” Ellis said in October. “I just had to take a little nap. I am sorry I scared so many people, but I am doing better.”

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He said at the time he was still dealing with “a little brain fog and a little bit of memory loss,” but he was “being cautious about it.”

Ellis appeared in 21 games for the Cougars between 2018 and 2021, mostly on special teams.

He was expected to battle Micah Harper, D’Angelo Mandell, Isaiah Herron and others for a starting spot this fall, but obviously plans have changed.

“It is hard to (accept), because he’s just a great guy and a great person,” Sitake said. “He’s also a great football player, it just isn’t meant to be.”