he first time Chris Elmore was the face of a team was the first time he played football.
In elementary school, he accompanied his father to Chicago high school games where the latter worked part-time as a medical standby for the school district. Elmore took initiative — he led his younger siblings out of their father’s off-yellow Cadillac and in and out of Gately Park’s stadium as they carried medical supply bags and coolers.
Elmore then rounded up other fans’ kids to play football on the patch of grass outside the stadium during games. Elmore was the group’s leader, said Kennard Johnson, who worked as stadium security at the time.
As the group played tackle football, driving one another into the ground, Elmore proved he was the “ultimate tough kid,” said Keith Brookshire, one of many Chicago high school coaches who noticed Elmore playing on the makeshift field years ago.
His father, Clinton Elmore, said another high school coach pointed at the kids playing on the little patch of grass as he passed by and told his players that if they worked that hard, they could win a state title.
Behind it all was Elmore, the face of the group.
“Coaches filtered around me and were just like, ‘You’re a guy who knows football,’” Elmore said of his experience leading the group. “That leadership role, it just came to me. It just naturally came to me.”
Elmore became the face of his high school team — and the school — at Wendell Phillips (Illinois) Academy, and he’s stepped into a similar role with Syracuse University football. Head coach Dino Babers said last year that the Orange wouldn’t have finished the season had Elmore not selflessly agreed to shift from fullback and tight end to offensive line.
But in his lifetime of leadership roles, his current has been the most unconventional. Elmore used his extra year of eligibility to come back and lead SU once more following a 1-10 season in 2020. He holds a significant front-facing role, typically uncommon for a fullback. He’s an unlikely leader.
“When you want to say like, what’s a Philips Wildcat? Or if you were to say, what’s a Syracuse Orange? Chris would be one of those guys you would put at the face of it,” said Troy McAllister, former Phillips Academy head coach. “He’s the kind of person you put at the face of a program.”
Elmore was the one who “got the guys right” at Phillips, said his younger brother, Craig Elmore, who played alongside him in high school. During Elmore’s sophomore year, there was a junior offensive lineman who hated going to the weight room, so coaches paired him with Elmore.
The two went to lift together everyday, and by the end of the year, the lineman was squatting 400 pounds, former Phillips Academy offensive coordinator Joe Winslow said. The pair went head-to-head at practice too, Elmore playing defensive line. With Elmore’s guidance, the offensive lineman became one of the team’s best.
“It was safe to say Chris became his motivation,” Winslow said.
Off the field, Elmore was voted the most likely to become famous by his classmates at the end of his senior year, Clinton said. It wasn’t because he was the most vocal, but because he set an example that others at the school followed. He became “the face of the school,” according to Winslow, and an unofficial leader among students who weren’t even on the football team.
Elmore’s not intentionally trying to lead the pack, many close to him said, but his humility and personableness carry over to those around him, both on and off the football field. That was apparent when his best friend, Carliysia Clark, died in a fire during his sophomore year of high school. Elmore dedicated his football career to her, and she became his inspiration and motivation to push forward with his own goals.