Riki (Gray) Ellison of Amphitheater High School in 1976. Photo by Benjie Sanders / Arizona Daily Star

Benjie Sanders / Arizona Daily Star

Editor's note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports.

Today's list: the top 10 NFL players from Tucson high schools.

Tucson schools have produced 34 NFL players, from Tucson High quarterback Fred W. Enke in 1948 to Canyon del Oro’s KaDeem Carey in 2014.

None from that group has a backstory to match that of Amphitheater High School linebacker Riki Gray, who in 1984 changed his surname to Ellison.

Ellison was born in 1960 in Christchurch, New Zealand, the son of a professor who took the family to live in Malaysia. Ellison’s parents divorced when he was 4 and he moved with his mother back to New Zealand.

At 8, Ellison and his mother moved to Pasadena, California, where she remarried and earned a degree at USC. Riki did not play his first football game until he was 13; by then, the family had moved to Tucson where his stepfather was a school teacher.

At Amphi, Ellison became a first-team Parade All-American in 1977 and the Arizona Player of the Year. As a sophomore he had been a key part of the Panthers’ 1975 state championship.

The recruiting struggle for Ellison was unlike any Tucson had witnessed in high school football. Notre Dame coach Dan Devine flew to Tucson and made his best pitch. Then USC coach John Robinson arrived and sold the Trojans’ tradition. Ellison nodded; the first college football game he had seen was a Trojans game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Perhaps to express how much the Trojans wanted Ellison, Robinson and USC athletic director Dave Hubbard flew to Tucson on letter-of-intent day to make sure Ellison signed with USC and not Notre Dame.

A few months later, Ellison became the second USC true freshman to start his first college game, against Texas Tech.

Our top 10 rankings are driven mostly by NFL production and not college heroics: 

Sports columnist for the Arizona Daily Star.