TAMPA, FLA. — It was tough for Bruce Ellington to tell Steve Spurrier and Frank Martin he was leaving South Carolina. It would have been tougher to tell his mother he was staying.
Ellington, the Gamecocks’ two-sport star for three seasons, left school with one year of eligibility left in football and basketball partially at the urging of his mother Gwen Ellington, who gave him a frank talk about the ravages of time. Twenty-two is not old in the real world, but it can feel ragged in dual-sport years, which have multipliers like dog years, Gwen Ellington reasoned to her son.
“She wanted me to go,” Ellington said during a break from his preparation for this week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Ind. “She was like, ‘Man, you are getting old. You are doing two sports. Your body is taking a lot of contacts. You might as well go ahead and get in as early as possible.’ ”
Ellington, 5-foot-9, 196 pounds, caught 106 passes for 1,586 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Gamecocks after joining the football team in his second fall on campus. (“I had made that decision that I was going to play (only) basketball, but after we beat Alabama when Alabama was No. 1, I was in the stands, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to play in front of this,’ ” he said.)
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His final two seasons were carbon copies – 40 catches for 600 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore, 47 catches for 775 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. It seemed to Ellington as if another season would bring similar numbers and thus prove nothing more about his ability to play the game at the highest level.
“We have a lot of weapons on the team and everybody gets the ball,” Ellington said. “I was like, ‘It’s just time for me to go.’ ”
The Gamecocks’ propensity to spread the ball around on offense leaves Ellington with plenty of skills he can show off at the combine, he believes. He threw for, caught and ran for touchdowns in his South Carolina career.
“I think everything I do out there, they are going to be like, ‘Wow,’ ” he said. “I am just going to go to the combine and give it all I’ve got. At school, we had a lot of weapons, so I didn’t get the ball as much as I can do things, but I am going to just go and show them what I can do.”
Ellington had a tough time saying goodbye to Martin and basketball midway through his senior season. He averaged 11.2 points in 80 career games, but his scoring average went down each season as his football production went up.
“Making the decision to leave basketball was pretty hard because that’s my first love,” he said. “It was hard to have to go talk to both of the coaches, tell them that I was gone, but they both understood. Coach Martin went through scenarios and stuff like that, but he said, ‘It’s your decision.’ ”