Born in Susanville, Calif. on Oct. 27, 1931, Jack Duane Ellena, Sr., attended Lassen High School where he won All-Northern California football honors. He also participated in basketball, baseball and track.
Ellena entered UCLA on a baseball scholarship, but really made a name for himself on the wrestling mat and gridiron. A big bear of a man at 6’1” and 226 pounds, Ellena competed on the now-defunct Bruins wrestling squad from 1952-1954, earning back-to-back Pacific Coast Conference heavyweight titles in 1953 and 1954. Those same years, Ellena was a qualifier for the NCAA wrestling championships. At the 1953 NCAAs held at Penn State, the Bruin big man pinned his first two opponents in the heavyweight bracket (one in just 40 seconds) before being pinned by defending champ Gene Nicks of Oklahoma State at 4:59 of the semifinals. Ellena went on to place fourth in the unlimited weight class, earning All-American honors.
In addition to being a wrestler, Ellena played offensive tackle at UCLA, where he was a member of the undefeated 1954 Bruins football squad that won the Rose Bowl and the Associated Press national collegiate title. That same year, Ellena was named to the College Football All-America team, and earned UPI Lineman of the Year honors. Ellena also placed seventh in balloting for the Heisman Trophy.
For these sports accomplishments, Ellena was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987.
After graduating from UCLA, Ellena was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, and played until he suffered a career-ending knee injury in 1957. He later went on to coach college football, and worked as a stuntman on TV shows and films. In addition, he served as a bodyguard to singer/actor Ricky Nelson.
For more than three decades, Ellena and his wife Jacquie ran the Mountain Meadow Ranch summer camp for children in his hometown of Susanville.
Want to know more? For photos and info of the best of the big men of college wrestling from 1928-2000, check out NCAA Heavyweight Champs Yahoo group... and for the titlewinners since 2001 including Tommy Rowlands, Cole Konrad and Mark Ellis, visit NCAA Heavyweight Champs 2 Yahoo group.
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