It’s been an interesting first year of playing professionally for Redwood Falls native and former Augustana standout Tommy Ellingworth.
Following a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings this past spring, Ellingworth began to attract interest from league’s outside of the NFL including the CFL and teams from both the Arena I and Arena II leagues.
After a workout with the Chicago Slaughter of Arena League I in the fall, Ellingworth was waiting for a potential deal with the team when out of the blue, Arena League I folded and the league was disbanded.
The CFL remained an option, but then Head Coach John Gregory of the Iowa Barnstormers got in contact with Ellingworth’s agent to garner interest in potentially playing for the Barnstormers of the Arena League II.
“I thought it was a pretty good situation,” Ellingworth said. “I could stay in the Midwest, and I was playing for a veteran team and a veteran coach.”
Ellingworth – who also landed a job working for Wells Fargo in Des Moines – moved down to Iowa in December to prepare for the upcoming season which be-gan in March.
“The first month I was down here I just couldn’t believe how much different the style of football was,” he said. “It took awhile to get settled, but being a rookie I just wanted to go out and work hard and prove myself.”
An early Achilles issue sidelined the speedy wideout to the injured reserve list for the first seven weeks of the season before he finally was cleared to play.
“It was tough, but the doctor said this was the kind of injury I needed to be careful with,” he said. “Obviously I wanted to be sure I was healthy, and I didn’t want to risk my future.”
Playing on a team filled with veteran wide receivers such as former Big Ten standout Tim Dodge of Iowa and Errick McKown of Oklahoma State, Ellingworth earned a spot as the number four wide receiver on the team, but he began to open eyes running opposing team’s offenses.
Bottom line was coach wanted him to see the field.
“Coach came up to me. We were a little thin at defensive back, and he asked if I would consider playing some defense,” Ellingworth said. “I was hesitant at first being an offensive guy, but I wanted to do what was best for the team. So I agreed.”
In his first game in Amarillo, Texas, he finished with 11 tackles and an interception in a 55-54 win, proving himself once again.
“I had to laugh, I think I had a tackle, an interception and a rush before I caught my first pass,” he said.
Later in the season, against Milwaukee, he scored his first professional touchdown and has seen both sides of the field in numerous games.
So far he has recorded 22 tackles (18 solo), one INT, two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown and one rush for seven yards.
Life in the Arena League is much different than that of NFL players. Ellingworth’s week goes something like this: Monday – watch film; Tuesday-Thursday – practice from 6:30-8:30 a.m., Friday – rest, Saturday – game; all the while working a normal work week at his regular job. He gets his housing paid for and a meal allowance along with a rookie wage scale game check from week to week.
The Barnstormers began the season 3-3, playing a brutal stretch of games to open the year – since then they’ve gone 9-1 and  recently claimed the American Conference Midwest championship with a mark of 12-4.
Friday night the Barnstormers – seeded #2 in the playoffs – host #7 Manchester, New Hampshire in Des Moines in the opening round of postseason play.
“We had a really tough schedule early on, but we’ve gone on a pretty good run,” Ellingworth said. “I think the guys know there is a lot of talent on this team, and we’re hoping to make a run through the playoffs.”
Games can be seen on Media-com cable, online at www.nifty.com or by traveling to the Arena II League official Web site.
For Ellingworth, his first year playing pro ball has been one he won’t soon forget, and he also hopes it’s just the beginning.
“Being a rookie in this league it’s taken time to adjust but I think I’m picking up on it pretty quick,” he said. “I don’t think I could be in a better situation, and I’m just excited for the future.”