Riki Ellison
Ellison in November 2007
No. 69, 50
Position:Inside Linebacker
Personal information
Born: (1960-08-15) August 15, 1960 (age 61)
Christchurch, New Zealand
Height:6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight:220 lb (100 kg)
Career information
High school:Amphitheater
(Tucson, Arizona, U.S.)
NFL Draft:1983 / Round: 5 / Pick: 117
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games started:119
Player stats at NFL.com · PFR

Riki Morgan Ellison (born August 15, 1960) is a New Zealand-American former college and professional American football linebacker, who played ten 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. He is also the founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance and the Youth Impact Program.

High School career

Ellison played for the Amphitheater Panthers in Tucson, Arizona, where he won a State Championship in 1975.[1]

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 with a graduate emphasis on defense and strategic studies.

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 Māori 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.[2] 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.[3] He played his final three seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders.

In 2017, Ellison was inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.[citation needed]

Head coach at T.C. Williams High School

In April 2001, Ellison accepted the position of head football coach for T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia (the same school featured in the 2000 movie Remember The Titans).[4] Ellison declined to seek renewal of his contract, and resigned in March 2003.[5]

Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance

In 2002, Ellison launched the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a non-profit organization.[6]

Youth Impact Program

In 2005, Ellison founded the Youth Impact Program for disadvantaged and at-risk adolescent boys in US inner cities. It partners with universities, the U.S. Marine Corps, local NFL team, and public school teachers.[7] The U.S. Marine Corps also participates in YIP by providing students with leadership and character development skills training and mentoring.


Ellison is of Māori descent (Ngāi Tahu), born in Christchurch, New Zealand. 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 and moved to Beaver Creek Ranch, Rimrock, Arizona. Ellison went to high school in Tucson, Arizona.

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. His grandfather Edward Ellison played on the 1911 NZ Maori team and was awarded the OBE from Great Britain for his work as a Doctor in the Pacific. 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.[8]

Ellison has 4 children, including Brooke, Rhett, Troy, and Wesley. One of Ellison's sons, Rhett, played tight end for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants.


  1. ^ Gaona, Daniel. "Ellison presents Amphi High with an NFL Golden Football". Arizona Daily Star. December 4, 2015.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Dufrense, Chris (September 20, 1990). "He's Glad to Be an Ex-49er". Archived from the original on May 26, 2012.
  4. ^ "Former Trojan Linebacker Takes Command Of Titans". University of Southern California Athletics. April 25, 2001. Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  5. ^ Goldenbach, Alan (March 13, 2003). "Ellison Leaves T.C. Williams". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  6. ^ "Board of Directors". Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  7. ^ "Youth Impact Program". Retrieved 8 Feb 2017.
  8. ^ 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 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.