Riki Ellison

Riki Ellison

refer to caption

Ellison in November 2007
No. 50
Position: Linebacker
Personal information
Date of birth: (1960-08-15) August 15, 1960
Place of birth: Christchurch, New Zealand
Height: 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight: 220 lb (100 kg)
Career information
High school: Tucson (AZ) Amphitheater
College: University of Southern California
NFL Draft: 1983 / Round: 5 / Pick: 117
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Player stats at NFL.com

Riki Morgan Ellison (born August 15, 1960, in Christchurch, New Zealand) is a former U.S. college and professional linebacker, who played nine seasons in the National Football League (NFL), and went by the name Riki Gray while in college at USC as an All-Pac-10 player in 1982. He is the first New Zealander to play in the NFL.

College career

Ellison was part of a USC Trojans team that went to two Rose Bowls and won a national championship. He graduated USC with a degree in International Relations.

Professional career

The NFL San Francisco 49ers chose him with their fifth-round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft becoming the first ever New Zealander and Maori to play in Professional Football. Jerry Attaway, his conditioning coach at USC and (teammate) Ronnie Lott had convinced Bill Walsh to select him in the draft.

Ellison won three Super Bowls during his seven years with the 49ers.[1] He was drafted alongside a pair of future Pro Bowlers, running back Roger Craig and center/guard Jesse Sapolu. In his final season with the 49ers in 1989, he broke his right arm in the final preseason game and was placed on the injured reserve list for the season.[2] He played his final three seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders.

Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance

In 2002, Ellison launched the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance a non-profit organization with the mission to advocate for the deployment and development of a missile defense system.

Youth Impact Program

In 2005, Ellison founded the Youth Impact Program for disadvantaged, poverty-stricken and at-risk adolescent boys in US inner cities.[3] The program places them in an educational setting for five weeks, exposing them to academics, life skills and athletics in a University setting. The program provides the boys with clothing, food and permanent mentors from University football teams who track and support the young men year-round. The U.S. Marine Corps also participates in YIP by providing students with leadership and character development skills training and mentoring. Since its founding, Youth Impact Programs have been held at university's across the United States including the University of Southern California, Tulane University, Rice University, the University of South Florida, Syracuse University, University of Houston, and Texas Southern University, Stanford University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan and the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Youth Impact Program has twice been recognized by the United States Congress in Congressional Resolutions for its achievements, innovation and impact.


Ellison is of Māori descent. At eight, Ellison moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with his father, Dan, who went on to become an economic advisor to the United Nations. Shortly thereafter, Ellison's parents divorced and he relocated with his mother to Los Angeles, where she remarried Dennis Gray. Ellison went to high school in Tucson, AZ.

The Ellison family comes from a strong sporting background, he is related to professional rugby players Tamati Ellison and Jacob Ellison who both played in Super Rugby, Jacob is now playing in Japan for Fukuoka Sanix Blues, while Tamati is with the Melbourne Rebels. Thomas Ellison, his great-uncle, played for the first New Zealand rugby team to play in Great Britain in 1888 and 1889, and captained the first New Zealand team to play in Australia in 1893.[4]

In 1992, Ellison relocated his family to New Zealand. In 1995 he attempted to bring an American college football bowl game to Auckland, but the proposed "Haka Bowl" did not go ahead.

Ellison's son, Rhett, plays as a tight end for the Minnesota Vikings.


  1. Farmer, Sam (October 8, 2000). "EX-49ERS RECALL MOVE TO RAIDERS LOOKING BACK ON CHANGING LOYALTIES". The San Jose Mercury News. p. 1D. Ellison 's views have softened on the 49ers, with whom he played from 1983 to '89 and earned three Super Bowl rings.
  2. Dufrense, Chris (September 20, 1990). "He's Glad to Be an Ex-49er". Archived from the original on May 25, 2012.
  3. "Youth Impact Program". Retrieved 25 May 2012.
  4. Anderson, Atholl (30 October 2012). "Ellison, Thomas Rangiwahia". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara —the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
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