Throwing it all to the wind: Mason Ellis, a former track-and-field athlete at West Forsyth, has gone through personal strife to become top-notch star at Wake Forest

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — As a track-and-field athlete, Mason Ellis can throw just about anything.  

Formerly a star at West Forsyth, graduating in 2020, Ellis is now a senior at Wake Forest and can throw the discus, shot put, hammer and weight.  

However, he was involved in some other sports as a child.  

“I was in sixth-grade and I played football and basketball, but obviously the late spring and early summer, just kind of time off there from those sports,” Ellis said. “My parents wanted me to do a sport to keep me in shape for football and basketball because I just wasn’t sitting around.” 

A new sport blossomed from there.  

“I picked up track,” Ellis said. “I started with AAU track with Lights Out. And from there, I competed in middle-school (Flat Rock) and high school, of course, and then I continued doing AAU track as well, competing with school.” 

He gave up basketball after eighth-grade, and he played JV football at West Forsyth his freshman year.  

“I played my freshman year at West Forsyth, and then I did indoor and outdoor track, so no more basketball either,” Ellis said. “Coming in, I was really good, like I placed really high at the AAU Nationals in middle school, especially like seventh- and eighth-grade, And I kind of figured like I’d be at the high school, but obviously I couldn’t say, ‘I’m done with football.’  

“I was only like 14. I still needed to develop a little bit, but that freshman year for me (at West Forsyth) was proof because I had a bunch of development. Like, I hit a growth spurt. I put on weight. I got introduced to a bunch of guys that were better than me at the time that kind of helped guide me and could give me the resources I needed to be successful.” 

Ellis had a big life moment there.  

“I came to the decision in the summer before my sophomore year (at West Forsyth) to step away from football and go track full time,” he said.  

He eventually proved that he was done with football when he met with then-Coach Adrian Snow.  

“One morning I was supposed to go out for practice, and I walked into Snow’s office and I said, ‘Hey, like I’m putting all my focus into track. Like, it’s nothing against you or anyone else. It’s just that’s where the Lord is guiding me,” Ellis said. “And at first, he was just, ‘OK.’  

“And then he realized, like, I’m a bigger dude. I like 6-(foot)-4, 320 (pounds) right now. Even back in high school I think I ended up being right around 6-4, 300. So, I could’ve been pretty good at football. So, I understand why people wanted me to play. But Coach Snow was yelling, “You’re making a huge mistake.’ Kind of the same with my dad.” 

He went with his intuition to go with track and field after playing football since kindergarten.  

“I definitely lost my passion for football probably if not freshman year, definitely like seventh- or eighth-grade,” Ellis said. “Like, I enjoyed it a lot in eighth-grade because I was playing for the Broncos (Pop Warner football), and I was doing eighth-grade unlimited. So, I was playing guys like my size. Or at least I was bigger than most of the guys. 

“Because before that I was playing up, like I was in sixth-grade playing with eighth-graders. And the maturity level is just like, I was getting my head kicked in. Like they’re starting puberty and I’m not even there yet.” 

Ellis knew what he wanted at West Forsyth and communicated with Jeff Thompson, who was the boys indoor and outdoor track-and-field coach there at the time.  

“I emailed Coach Thompson. Back then I emailed him like in June before even coming in, I was like, ‘Yep, I do track here. Like, I think I’m going to be good,” he said. “Like I’m excited to get started with you. What do I need to do to get started? Because back then I thought it was going to be super-hard to make the team.” 

Thompson retired from West Forsyth after the 2019, just after Ellis finished his junior season there on the outdoor track-and-field team. Thompson was replaced by Nathan Newsome, who was the girls indoor and outdoor track-and-field coach, and began coaching both the boys and girls.  

“It was an amazing experience (to have competed at West Forsyth),” Ellis said. “I had a lot of personal struggles going on with like with my mom. Her health had gotten really bad. I had to work a job while I was in high school while also balancing track and academics so I could help her pay bills and stuff. My parents weren’t together, but my dad was struggling as well. It was hard. 

“But track at West let me have an outlet and helped me go somewhere and be happy just for two or three hours that I’m out there each day.” 

While competing for the Titans in high school, Ellis competed in the discus and shot put. He won the 2019 NCHSAA Class 4-A indoor shot put championship at JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem. 

“I’d have to go back and look, but I think I can confidently say from my sophomore year through my senior year, every like event that I competed at states was either just shy — I put indoors shot and disc — I was always all-state,” Ellis said. 

He not only won, he won at home.  

“It was really important because like me whole goal was to win the state championship because I had a chance to the year before, but I just didn’t show up and compete as well as I needed to win,” Ellis said. “And being a junior I was a little bit older, had more experience, and I had just gone way further. I went from being a really good, like high-state level shot putter and like mid-tier national (athlete). Like I was one of the names starting to get talked about.” 

That spring at the NCHSAA Class 4-A outdoor championships at N.C. A&T in Greensboro, Ellis finished second in the discus at 171 feet, 6 inches, behind Cary Panther Creek’s Chancelor Crawford at 174-8. In the shot put, Ellis finished fourth at 55-51/4.  

“I think it was my second-best discus throw ever and everything was all good leading up to nationals, and I was still competing in AAU,” Ellis said. “So, I went to an AAU meet. I was warming up coming out of back of the circle I turned over my foot read bad and I broke my foot. That ended the rest of my season.” 

Breaking his foot meant that he would have to miss New Balance Nationals, AAU Nationals, and the USATF Nationals. Ellis thinks me missed about eight to 10 weeks while he recovered. His senior season at West Forsyth, Ellis was named National Scholastic Athletics Foundation All-American in indoor shot put. 

That summer, he committed Wake Forest after choosing between it, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. He picked Wake Forest because he said his mother has many health problems, including a degenerative nerve disease, epilepsy and she’s had some strokes. She’s also a smoker and has chronic pneumonia. 

“Wake obviously has a very strong academics,” Ellis said. “It was a smallish school. It was also private, which is kind of what I was leaning towards as far as like the class sizes and what students have access to. And on top of that, I guess it’s now a Power Four (conference), but back then it’s a Power Five conference. On top of that, it’s right near my mom, and if anything happens, which in the four years, about to be five that I’ve been at Wake, there’s been multiple times where there have been emergencies that I had to be home. It made sense for me.” 

He recovered from the broken and competed on the indoor team at West Forsyth, and just as the outdoor season started COVID-19 shut down the season. Ellis also had his freshman indoor and outdoor season at Wake Forest affected by COVID-19.  

“My whole four years of undergrad at Wake Forest was paid for, and that’s like such a huge opportunity just because of how much I could make in the future with that degree,” Ellis said. “And then on top of that, like I’m actually paying to go to grad school and I’m going to finish my eligibility up.” 

At Wake Forest he continued to compete in shot put and discus. But he’s also dabbled in hammer and weight throw.  

“I guess you could say I mess around with hammer and weight throw, but my main two are the shot and discus,” Ellis said.  

According to, Ellis’ personal records at Wake Forest in indoor — 56-1/2 in shot put and 57-¼ in the weight throw — and in outdoor — 160-71/4 in discus, 56-51/2 in shot put, and 164-11/4 in the hammer throw.  

“I’ve done well, but I haven’t done as well as I’ve wanted to,” Ellis said. “But I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to have another year to go back and give it one more try. But this last year, like in the fall, I had a really bad back spasm and I couldn’t walk for about four or five days. I missed out on about three to four weeks of training because of that.”  

He also hurt his ankle at the ACC Outdoor Track-and-Field Championships his junior year at Wake Forest. 

“And I knew I was going to redshirt the outdoor season to make sure I had a full year next year,” Ellis said. “…But I think there’s a lot more in the tank for next year.” 

He graduated from Wake Forest this past May with a major in communication and a minor in marketing. He’s going to stay at Wake Forest and go to grad school with a master’s in financial technology and analytics that he paying out of his own pocket. Because he redshirted this past spring, he can compete for Wake Forest in the indoor and outdoor track-and-field seasons.  

“I think more so it just came down to, alright if I found out a program that I’m going to pay for itself in the future, like I want to do a full year,” Ellis said. “I know I had dealt with a lot of adversity this past year hurting my back. And on top of that, my mom was in the hospital on a ventilator for a month.” 

With the Paris Olympics beginning a couple weeks, Ellis is looking forward to watching the track and field. He’s also looking at his own future. 

“I think it’s been huge,” he said. “Like, the athlete part is awesome. And as much as track has brought to me, I’m super-appreciative. I don’t think like a high-level athlete, I don’t think that’s not the biggest thing that’s come out of this. It’s more so the fact that I’ve completed the opportunity that was given me to change my life and kind of set up a trajectory. It would be different from where I was headed.”