SKIATOOK — Prentiss Elliott’s legs belong in the NFL. Wherever his legs are, a defender is usually far behind or below them, cursing at the prospect of giving up another reception.
His hands, strong and reliable, extend from below his forearms, bulging biceps and broad shoulders that should belong to a man who made a fortune playing wide receiver. His brain wakes each morning from long nights dreaming about Sundays spent playing football in front of thousands, beneath a pirate ship in Tampa Bay or a hole in the ceiling in Dallas, or on fields frozen solid once the calendar flips to December. It tells him another trip to the gym is the only way his dream will ever come about. But it hasn’t. And those legs, those hands, those arms, those shoulders, and most importantly, that brain, are the reasons why. As a receiver at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, he played in a town with one team. Now, he plays in a town with one McDonald’s. Every Friday and Saturday night, Elliott makes his way 15 miles north on Highway 75 from his home in north Tulsa to Skiatook, a town of less than 6,000. The town’s main drag is only a few hundred yards of family owned shops and stores, none more than a few stories high. Allred Hardware and Kendall’s drug store are insulated from the Sonic and Wal-Mart, now small-town staples, which block the view of Oklahoma’s signature dusty plains on the outskirts of the town center. Inside Exchange Bank Stadium, the home of Skiatook’s Bulldogs, Elliott catches touchdown passes in FieldTurf end zones painted black and red, a stark contrast to the blue uniform stretched over his pads. Instead of thrilling more than 45,000 orange-clad Cowboy fanatics on perfect fall Saturdays, he draws modest cheers for his still-spectacular play from a few hundred bored Skiatook natives trying to survive a Saturday night flirting with triple-digit temperatures. His performances in the sleepy town have attracted attention from a handful of NFL teams, giving hope to his dream. He’s halfway through a summer spent doing the only thing he ever wanted to do, and it’s been more than a year since his name could be found in the police blotter. Success is a blip of light far in the distance, perhaps never to be found. Elliott believes he’ll reach it. His history says he won’t.
Just out of reachFans left Boone Pickens Stadium almost five years ago thinking they’d gotten a glimpse of the future. In Stillwater, as in much of his career, Elliott is best known for what he didn’t reach, rather than what he did. In 2004’s Bedlam game against No. 2 Oklahoma, the Cowboys trailed by three points with less than 90 seconds remaining. On third down, Elliott dived for a Donovan Woods deep ball near the OSU end zone. A freshman playing in what would be his only season, he couldn’t reach the pass that could have given Oklahoma State the lead and cemented Elliott’s place in Cowboy lore as more than a recruiting hiccup. Instead, the Cowboys had to settle for a missed field goal and a painful home loss. Three months later, Elliott was off the team. Elliott still spends his Saturdays catching touchdowns. Lots of them. Before Friday night’s 39-29 win over Tecca Del Monterey, 14 of his 19 receptions had been for touchdowns in seven games with the Oklahoma Thunder, a semi-pro team playing in the World Football League. Some dismiss the league as illegitimate. Open tryouts are commonplace. The Thunder wouldn’t have made much of the player performing shuttle runs for an assistant coach, in hopes of playing receiver for the Thunder. That is, if the new prospect wasn’t the starting quarterback for the Oklahoma City Gunners, who the Thunder suited up against less than 24 hours later. Regardless of the league’s credentials, Elliott has used his far superior speed, strength and athleticism to become one of its stars in his rookie season. Like at Oklahoma State, he’s still fond of the fly route. Two of his 12 touchdowns went for longer than 95 yards. Including punt and kick returns, he gains more than 35 yards every time he touches the ball. In its two-year history, the Thunder is unbeaten in 21 games, capturing the WFL title last season and routinely defeating opponent by more than 70 points. But no numbers will drown out the critics who say his legal troubles will prevent his name from ever appearing on an NFL roster. Three years probation for a drive-by shooting of his girlfriend’s home in 2008. Fifteen days in jail for a felony weapons charge in 2007. A misdemeanor assault and battery conviction in 2006 for an altercation with an off-duty police officer at a basketball game in 2003. That arrest led to no jail time but put Elliott on the pages of USA Today for the wrong reason. When asked to provide his side of the story for any of the arrests, Elliott’s eyes darted in the opposite direction as he stammered over his refusal to answer. He says rehashing those events is pointless, and his only focus is on what’s in front of him. "Unfortunate things happen, you can’t change them. All I can do is move forward,” Elliott said. "Everybody makes mistakes. I know everybody says, ‘I’m tired of hearing that,’ but everybody makes mistakes. Nobody can judge me but God.” He refuses to put any of the blame for his decisions on friends he made as a child who later joined gangs, or the environment he grew up around in north Tulsa, which is known for its gang and drug activities.