USC point guard Bruce Ellington brushed off questions for months about playing football, saying as recently as two weeks ago he had no plans to try out for Steve Spurrier’s team.
But this week the former Berkeley High star quarterback told USC basketball coach Darrin Horn that he planned to try out for football, said Steve Davis, a lawyer who has mentored Ellington since middle school. Later, Ellington met with USC football coaches.
While his mom would have preferred he stuck with basketball, Ellington went with his heart. “It was Superman’s decision,” Davis said, referring to the nickname he has given the freshman.
Still, there could be a catch to any plans Ellington has of attending spring football practice.
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The 5-foot-9, 197-pound Moncks Corner native signed an early letter of intent with South Carolina. NCAA rules state early signees cannot practice or play in games during a student-athlete’s first year at the school. Efforts to reach Horn or USC football officials were unsuccessful Wednesday night.
Ellington’s high school football coach, Jerry Brown, said he was not surprised when he learned this week that Ellington would try football. He could see the speedster playing slot receiver and returning kicks.
“He loved playing football more than any other player I have ever coached,” Brown said. “I think he really missed football.”
Though Horn said Ellington could play for Spurrier if he wanted, South Carolina’s basketball team would be damaged if Ellington departs.
Ellington was the Gamecocks’ only consistent scoring threat this season, averaging a team-high 12.8 points a game to earn SEC All-Freshman honors. The team, still in building mode after three seasons under Horn, finished 14-16 with a roster dominated by underclassmen.
USC on Tuesday lost sophomore guards Ramon Galloway and Stephen Spinella, who decided to transfer. If Horn loses Ellington, whose scholarship would transfer to football, Horn would have 10 scholarship players. Plus, Ellington would not be available to the basketball team until after a bowl game — at about the time the SEC season starts.
Ellington’s poor play late in the season after bruising his calf — as well as the team’s mounting losses — fueled speculation he might try football. During a visit to Davis’ home Friday, the mentor said the normally outgoing Ellington’s spirit had darkened, and he was more withdrawn when talking about basketball.
“It was a long season for him,” Davis said. “I’ve known him a long time; something wasn’t all there.”
In addition to quarterback, Ellington played safety, wide receiver and running back in high school. As a signal-caller, he ran a flexbone offense — a read-and-react system that took advantage of his speed and strength.
“He could make a lot plays and make a lot of people miss out there,” Brown said. “You couldn’t get the ball away from him. The field was so wide. He could really run out there.”
Video: Ellington leads Berkeley to 2009 4A state championship