While Jonah Elliss was growing up, dad Luther Elliss encouraged him to try out all kinds of sports, but there was no denying the family bloodline.

A former Utah football player, Luther Elliss enjoyed a successful NFL career, being named to the Pro Bowl twice while playing with the Detroit Lions, and his son took after him in picking up football.

“It was as fine of a defensive performance as I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and that’s saying something.”

—  Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Jonah Elliss' game against UCLA

It didn’t matter what sport the younger Elliss tried, he just kept coming back to football.

“I think once they kind of figured out what I did and just the game itself, they just naturally fell in love with it and it’s something they wanted to do,” Luther Elliss said.

As he progressed through high school in Moscow, Idaho, Ellis started drawing offers to play at the next level.

After missing out on Jonah’s three brothers — Kaden, Christian and Noah, all of whom played in the NFL — defensive ends coach Lewis Powell was not going to make that mistake again.

“I called Luther and I’m like, ‘Dude, Jonah, what do you think?’ He goes, ‘I think he’s going to develop into just what the brothers are,’” Powell said.

“So I had to offer him, and we knew his mental makeup was solid, and we knew that his background and the NFL background was there. We knew that he was going to continue to grow and develop.”

Jonah chose to follow in his dad’s footsteps and committed to Utah.

At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds out of high school, Elliss played linebacker in his first season for Utah — he recorded 15 tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries — but the plan was always to have him on the defensive line. Elliss put in the work in the weight room and in his diet, got to 241 pounds by the start of his sophomore year and made the switch to defensive end.

He hit the ground running at defensive end in 2022 in Utah’s season-opening loss at Florida, forcing a fumble and added three tackles and a quarterback hurry.

Elliss played in 11 games (starting eight) in his sophomore season, earning an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod for his play, and ended the year with 26 tackles, six for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

“He came in, switched positions, just respected the process, and he has the NFL pedigree already, and he just continued to flourish and grow and develop,” Powell said.

Elliss had rounded into a good defensive end for the Utes, but still had another level to hit.

Hitting his stride

After two years in the program, everything started really clicking in spring and fall camp leading up to his junior season. His coaches could see the difference, which his dad attributed to enough reps in the college game.

“I think honestly it was just through experience and through enough repetition that he had the opportunity. Finally it clicked for him and he’s like, ‘Oh, OK, I get it now.’ And you could just see it as he was playing from the first game of Florida to even in camp prior to that,” Elliss said.

Elliss had a productive first three games of the 2023 season, racking up nine tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup, but the moment things kicked into a new gear for him was in Utah’s 14-7 over UCLA.

With the offense struggling — only scoring seven points, with the other seven coming off of a pick-six by linebacker Karene Reid — the defense needed to step up, and it did in a big way, led by Elliss.

Utah Utes defensive end Jonah Elliss (83) celebrates a sack against UCLA in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“It was as fine of a defensive performance as I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and that’s saying something,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said postgame on the Fox telecast.

Ten tackles (five for loss) and 3.5 sacks was the final line for Elliss, along with pressuring the quarterback a number of other times. The Bruins’ offensive line couldn’t stop him, and Elliss knew it.

“He comes to the sideline and he looks at me and goes, ‘Coach, I can do whatever I want against this offensive tackle,’” Powell said. “The quarterback was running for his life the whole game.”

“... He had the UCLA game where it really was just flowing. He was in that zone,” Elliss said.

Playing with pain

Elliss injured his shoulder in the UCLA game, but kept battling through the next six games with a torn labrum, playing through the middle of November with practically one arm. He missed the final three games of the season to have surgery to repair the torn labrum.

“I know for him it was frustrating. Of course, he wanted to finish off the season and do those things, but it’s one of those things where you get an injury and it derails you and takes away from what you’re doing,” Luther said.

Despite the shoulder injury, Elliss still finished the season as the FBS leader in sacks per game (1.2).

“It was exciting to watch everything unfold. And again, he respected the process and it was exciting to see him grow and develop really fast,” Powell said.

While Powell was his position coach at Utah, having his dad Luther, who joined the staff as the defensive tackles coach in 2022, was a major benefit for Jonah.

Related
Utah defensive end Jonah Elliss is a consensus All-American
Utah football: Jonah Elliss following in father's footsteps

“I love it. I mean, he’s always looking out for me and always making sure I’m getting the extra film work and always making sure I’m doing things right. ... I love him being out here with me,” Jonah said in September.

Luther Elliss has been on the coaching staff for all five of his sons at the collegiate level, first at Idaho and then at Utah.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach for my five boys at the collegiate level, and it’s something that you don’t take for granted that you’re very grateful for,” he said.

“Just look forward to the opportunity. So having him around was always fun because (he’d) always come in and ask me what I thought of practice, what about this? He’d ask me things that, of course, he’s always asking Coach Powell, but then he’d ask me, what are my thoughts on certain things?”

The next level

Following his phenomenal junior season, Elliss declared for the NFL draft, but in the run-up to the NFL combine, pulled his hamstring. He still attended the combine, doing interviews with teams, but was unable to participate in drills.

He had an individual pro day this month, and Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score, which was designed to compare athletes’ performance at the combine and pro day, gave him a score of 8.59, which ranks 255 out of 1,798 defensive ends from 1987 to 2024.

“I feel like he could fit in any scheme as an outside linebacker or a D-end or middle linebacker. The one thing that I do know is you’re going to get a hard worker.”

—  Utah defensive ends coach Lewis Powell on Jonah Elliss

While his size doesn’t jump off the page, he makes up for it with great athleticism, explosiveness and pass-rush moves.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranks him as the No. 11 edge rusher, projected to be taken in the third to fourth round. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him as the No. 7 edge rusher and The Ringer’s Danny Kelly ranks him as the No. 8 edge rusher in the class.

Elliss is likely to hear his name called on Friday or Saturday in Detroit, the host of this year’s draft, joining his brothers and dad as the latest from the Elliss family to make it to the highest level of football.

“I feel like he could fit in any scheme as an outside linebacker or a D-end or middle linebacker,” Powell said. “The one thing that I do know is you’re going to get a hard worker, super explosive, twitchy, long arms, and he’s going to show up wherever he plays because he’s that type of player.”

Elliss had a pro’s mentality while at Utah, showing up early, watching extra film, taking care of his body and being a true leader on the defense, and that will carry over to the NFL.

As for advice from his dad, who knows what it takes to carve out an NFL career?

“The biggest thing is having no regrets. And what that means is just take advantage of every day, meaning you either get better or you get worse. There’s no staying the same. So what are you going to do each day?” Elliss said.

If his time at Utah is a harbinger of what he’ll do in the NFL, it’s safe to say that Elliss will take advantage of every moment.

Utah Utes defensive end Jonah Elliss (83) celebrates the Utes’ win against the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News