Bruce Ellington making 'seamless transition'
COLUMBIA -- South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington picked up his shoulder pads and helmet, took a look around an empty Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, and savored the moment one more time.
The last time Ellington had been on this field, on a cold and overcast early December night, he had run wild -- rushing for nearly 200 yards and scoring four touchdowns -- leading Berkeley High School to a come-from-behind victory over Northwestern in the Division II-AAAA football state title game.
It would take 20 more months before Ellington would get back on the field again, but after Saturday's performance in the Gamecocks' first scrimmage of the preseason, the nearly two-year wait was well worth it.
"It feels great to be playing football again," Ellington said Saturday. "I didn't realize how much I'd missed football until I got back out here. Football has been such a big part of my life, and I missed playing it last year. I've got a lot of great memories on this field. Some of the best, so it was great to get back out of here."
Ellington took a one-year hiatus from football to be the starting point guard for the South Carolina basketball team, where he led the team in scoring.
Since joining the football team over the summer, Ellington has worked diligently to get his football legs back underneath him. Taking part in his first full-contact scrimmage was the final test.
"It's been so long since I've been hit and it was strange at first," Ellington said. "I'm going to spend some time in a cold tank tonight and recover, but after that first hit it was like old times again. Everything kind of came back to me."
So far, Ellington has impressed the Gamecocks coaching staff and his teammates with his work ethic, his lightning quickness and his natural catching ability.
"He's going to help us this year," said backup quarterback Connor Shaw. "You can tell he's played the position before. He's got great hands. He'll go over the middle and make a play, and once he gets the ball, he's hard to bring down."
Ellington was the second leading receiver in Saturday's scrimmage with three catches for 37 yards, including a 7-yard TD pass from Shaw.
"Just a little drag route, I found a little seam in the defense and sat down," Ellington said.
Then Ellington took his turn at quarterback, running out of the "wildcat" formation. He finished with 20 yards on three attempts.
"We ran a similar offense in high school, so I felt very comfortable out there," Ellington said. "I love the wildcat, I love running out of it. Coaches have confidence that I can do it. I'm hoping it's something that they'll let me do during a game. When I was in the wildcat, I had a couple of flashbacks to that game against Northwestern."
Ellington's versatility during the scrimmage even impressed the Head Ball Coach.
"Bruce had an excellent scrimmage," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. ""He had a big scrimmage. We ran him in the wildcat, and he had 20 or 30 yards and he caught a couple of balls.
"He caught a little touchdown here at the end of the scrimmage."
Ellington said he probably won't be returning punts, but he will be on the kickoff return team.
"We've already got Ace (Sanders) and Stephon (Gilmore) back there on the punt and they are doing a great job," Ellington said. "If they need a backup, then I'll do it. I like returning kicks better because it gives me more time to react and make cuts."
Gamecocks defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Ellington's versatility will give opposing defenses that much more to worry about.
"Bruce is a playmaker," Ellis said. "He's dangerous with the ball. He can hurt you in the passing game and when he's in the wildcat, he's got the ability to make things happen. He's obviously a great athlete. It seems like he's made a seamless transition from basketball to football."