Maybe the hardest thing for Bruce Ellington to do is take a break.
South Carolina receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. wanted Ellington to take some significant time away – maybe miss a couple of weeks of spring football practice – to recuperate after nearly eight months of practice and competition in Southeastern Conference football and basketball.
“The next day, he was at practice,” Spurrier recalled with a smile. “He can't get away. He's got to run and be catching or dribbling of throwing something all the time.”
That's certainly been the case at South Carolina.
Ellington was a multi-sport star at Berkeley High School, winning a South Carolina high school football title as a quarterback. But he decided to concentrate solely on basketball as a freshman, leading the team with 12.8 points a game and making the SEC's all-freshman team.
Something was missing, though, and Ellington wanted back on the football field. He joined head coach Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks soon after his first basketball season ended and ever since, it's been a time-consuming, non-stop juggling act of workouts, meetings and games.
“It's the love of the game. I just love doing it,” Elllington said Thursday. “I'm just happy to be out here with the team.”
Ellington has been a plus for both programs. The 5-foot-9 junior caught 17 passes as a backup his first season in 2011 as he learned the Gamecocks offense. He emerged as one of the team's big-play threats this past season with 40 catches for a team-high 600 yards. He had seven touchdowns, including a 32-yard scoring play with 11 seconds left in South Carolina's 33-28 victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.
A few days later, Ellington was back on the basketball court as the Gamecocks and coach Frank Martin prepared for SEC play. Ellington ran the team and was one of its top defenders, usually matched up against the opponents' top scoring threat.
Ellington ended with 9.9 points a game, good for fourth on the team. When basketball season ended with a loss at the SEC tournament, Ellington was coy about whether he'd go back to football. Martin, who supports Ellington playing both sports, had no doubt what his floor leader would do.
Martin said Ellington's hinted when asked by the media about picking one sport over the other for “three straight years. Last time I checked he's played both every year. I think Bruce likes to have some fun with you guys. Bruce is a competitor. He's a special kid in both sports.”
Ellington worked out with Gamecock receivers before the team held a scrimmage, but didn't participate because head coach Spurrier wanted to give his younger guys some seasoning.
When the regular season starts, however, expect Ellington to be in the middle of things for Spurrier's passing attack. Ellington wants to become more of a leader this fall, too.
“Last year, I said some things but this year I'm trying to step up and be a better leader than I was, just go out and do the things I did last year,” he said.
Ellington found it simpler to transition from basketball to football than the other way around. “With basketball you've got to do that all year round,” he said. “But in football, if you're an athlete and can catch and run, you can learn really well and that will help you out.”
Ellington's also thrived under two of the SEC's biggest personalities in Spurrier and Martin.
“Coach Spurrier yells every now and then, but coach Martin, he gets after you,” Ellington said. “I'm kind of used to it now.”
Ellington, who's majoring in sociology, said he's continued the routine of studying, weight training, workouts and games as he did in high school so he doesn't feel mentally strained by the dual workload.
When the spring practice closes on April 13, Ellington will again happily balance two offseason programs to prepare for his junior year in football and his final season in basketball. “This is my last year,” he said. “So I might as well just finish it out.”