Matt Rhule remembers the conversation. It was during his first season as Temple head coach, in 2013, when current redshirt senior Avery Ellis was suffering from a back injury.

"I asked him at the time if he was sure he could continue playing," Rhule recalled this week.

Suffering from a fracture in his lower back, Ellis, a defensive lineman, didn't want to end his career lying down.

"I had the persistence to keep playing," Ellis said.

Ellis wouldn't need surgery, but he had to sit out the 2013 season. Slowly his back healed, and he resumed his football career in 2014.

The 6-foot-2, 249-pound product of Montclair (N.J.) High School has started just two career games but appeared in 43. The statistics suggest he's never been a star, but Rhule sees it differently.

"He's an example of everything you want in a young man," Rhule said.

Over the last two weeks, Ellis has stepped to the forefront with consecutive blocked punts.

First he blocked one in the third quarter that led to a Temple touchdown in the Owls' 46-30 win over South Florida.

Last week, his first-quarter block led to a field goal in a 34-13 win over visiting Cincinnati.

"I had never blocked a punt before on any level before that one" against USF, Ellis said. "Much of the credit goes to Sharif Finch, who taught me the technique."

Finch, a senior who is out for the season with a knee injury, has five career blocked punts.

This season, Ellis has six tackles and two tackles for loss in addition to the blocked punts.

He has gotten everything out of his Temple experience. He has already earned his degree in adult and organizational development and is taking master's courses in the sports business program. His goal is to become a college athletic director.


Rhule said he didn't expect injured cornerback Artrel Foster and safety Jyquis Thomas to play this week but said he was hopeful Foster can return after next week's bye. ... At the end of practice Rhule said cornerback Nate Hairston suffered an unknown injury, but later in the afternoon stated that Hairston would be fine to play Friday. ... Defensive end Haason Reddick is among 52 players nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the most outstanding player who began his collegiate career as a walk-on. . . . Junior Alex Starzyk is among 66 candidates for the Ray Guy Award that is presented to college football's top punter.