Bruce Ellington put together one of the most unique careers in the history of South Carolina athletics, a true two-sport star the likes of which the Gamecocks may not have had since Rob Deboer strode the sidelines as well as manned the outfield for the Gamecocks in the early 1990s.
Ellington came to Carolina as a member of the basketball team's ill-fated 2010 recruiting class, a six-man group that will likely not see anyone finish their eligibility (Harris, Richardson, Slawson, and Smith all transferred, and Geathers seems likely to receive a medical hardship). He leaves with one of the most decorated careers in Gamecock history.
Despite quarterbacking Berkeley to a state championship in his senior year, Ellington arrived in Columbia fully committed to living up to his four-star billing as a point guard under Darrin Horn. As a freshman, he lead that team in minutes played, points her game, and assists per game.
While the team struggled through a 14-16 season, Ellington showed glimpses of what many hoped would be a bright future on the hardwood, including a 23-point effort in a 72-69 upset win in Gainesville over the SEC champion Florida Gators.
In the spring of 2011, Ellington surprised many (including this blog) when he announced his intentions to play football in the fall of 2011. Many people - including our friends at The Rubber Chickens - questioned this decision. Initially, they seemed right, as Ellington only notched two receptions in his first four games. But he grabbed three balls against Auburn for 60 yards, and slowly worked his way into the Gamecock offense over the course of the season. That effort paid off in a big way at the end of the year, as he caught his first touchdown pass of his Gamecock career against the Clemson Tigers, a throw Connor Shaw would later describe as his favorite pass of his career:
On the basketball court, Ellington re-joined the team and was the biggest contributor on Darrin Horn's final Gamecock squad, averaging 10.6 points per game (second on the team to senior Malik Cooke) and playing 28.6 minutes a game (again, second to Cooke) in his 25 appearances.
Given that Bruce played in the much tougher portion of the schedule, it should come as no surprise that the team was 7-18 with him during that 10-21 season, although Ellington did once again stick it to Clemson by scoring 9 points in a 58-55 win against the Tigers, his second terrific performance against them in as many months.
Ellington returned to the football field and emerged from fall practice as the second-string receiver behind Ace Sanders. As the season went along, Ellington continued to carve a larger niche in the offense for himself. After starting the season with no catches against Vanderbilt, Ellington slowly came to the fore - he had 5 catches for 98 yards versus UAB, and then added a touchdown catch for his only reception against Georgia in a 35-7 shellacking:
Ellington really came into his own with a six-catch, 101-yard, one-touchdown performance against Tennessee in a 38-35 win in Williams-Brice Stadium. Bruce added another 100-yard game the next week against Arkansas (along with another TD). But as he was wont to do in his Carolina career, Ellington saved his best for the Tigers - seven catches, 72 yards and two TDs:
And of course, that wouldn't be the last touchdown catch that Bruce Ellington caught off the arm of Dylan Thompson in the 2012 season:
Ellington then returned to a weakened basketball program that asked him to be the best player on the team despite his absence from the program for a majority of the five previous months. He averaged 32.2 minutes per game (9th most in the SEC) on a team that ultimately went 14-18 and desperately needed more talent. Like many Gamecocks, his best game was in the 75-54 romp over Arkansas, where he scored 14 points and doled out four assists. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough talent around him to put together many memorable moments in a very disappointing season not just for the point guard, but for the program.
Ellington returned to the football field for what would ultimately be his final season in a Gamecock uniform. After a second straight season of not immediately jumping to the fore of the receiving corps, Bruce came on in a big way against Vanderbilt, with 8 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown in a 35-25 Carolina victory:
That wouldn't be the last big game Bruce put together for the Gamecocks. He'd add 6 catches for 96 yards in a blowout win over Arkansas before his legendary 10-catch, 136-yard performance against Missouri, which led noted college football enthusiast Bill Connolly with mixed feelings when he ultimately decided to go pro
As a cfb fan, I was hoping to get one more year out of Bruce Ellington. He's awesome. As a Mizzou fan, however...— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) January 3, 2014
If you're reading this blog, you don't have to ask why Bill said that:
After another big touchdown catch to get the Gamecocks back in the ballgame against the Florida Gators, and a four-catch, 51-yard display against Clemson (though for once in his life, Bruce spared the Tigers seeing him in the end zone), Ellington bid farewell to Gamecock nation with a terrific performance against the Wisconsin Badgers, shredding the defense for 140 yards on 6 receptions, his highest receiving yardage total in his career. Ever a showman, Ellington saved his best for last:
And as was his way, Ellington made sure he did a little bit of everything on the way out the door:
In 3.5 years, Bruce Ellington played six seasons (three for the football team, three for the basketball team), earned his degree, and left Gamecock fans with as many memories as any Gamecock player to ever come through Columbia. While selfishly Carolina fans will wish he would've stayed longer, it's hard to ask for any more than what Ellington gave to the university during his time in Columbia.
Farewell, Bruce, and good luck.