Sapakoff: Time for the Gamecocks' 'Bruuuce' Ellington to try the NFL
ORLANDO, Fla. - Bruce Ellington caught two touchdown passes Wednesday in No. 8 South Carolina's 34-24 Capital One Bowl victory over No. 19 Wisconsin.
The Berkeley High School graduate also threw his first college touchdown pass, a sharp 9-yard strike to quarterback Connor Shaw.
Now Ellington might pass on his senior season in Columbia.
"I haven't made that decision yet," he said after a game. "I'm just going to focus on this game and celebrate with my teammates."
Perfectly understandable after a near-perfect game, considering a third consecutive bowl win capped a third straight 11-2 season.
"It's great," said Ellington, a 5-9, 196-pound junior. "As a team, to come out here and win and do it for the seniors and the guys leaving, I'm just happy for them."
Yeah, but is Ellington one of those guys leaving?
Logic and his New Year's Day performance say yes.
What's not to like about a resourceful, athletic play in the third quarter starring Ellington tipping a deep out pass to himself for a 22-yard gain on fourth-and-7?
Two plays later - or quicker than the one-song halftime show from country singer Hunter Hayes - Ellington was in the end zone scoring his second touchdown.
Every bit of Ellington's effort was necessary with the Badgers running the ball so effectively behind a wall of skilled linemen big enough to introduce themselves and their stomachs separately.
But there was more to it than just the prime role in the key plays of the game: Ellington outmuscled Wisconsin's favored press coverage and found seams when the Badgers backed off.
There is little left to prove, and too much injury risk.
'It's just Bruce'
Ellington is waiting for feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. A point guard in his basketball life, Ellington said he plans to talk soon with Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin but tentatively plans to play Friday night against S.C. State.
Forget it, kid.
Rest up, consult with family, find an agent, cash in. Start working out with one of those NFL Combine gurus.
The 140 receiving yards Wednesday (on six catches) is a new career high. No surprise there; Ellington knows January success, having caught the game-winning pass against Michigan in the Outback Bowl a year ago.
The touchdown pass was no big deal, either. Ellington as a quarterback led the Berkeley Stags to the Division II-AAAA state championship.
"I saw him make plays in high school and I've seen him make plays here," said Gamecocks right tackle Brandon Shell, a Goose Creek High School graduate. "It's just Bruce."
Bruce teamed with his cousin Andre Ellington for part of the time at Berkeley. Andre went on to Clemson and just completed a rookie season with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals in which he rushed for 652 yards, caught 39 passes and scored four touchdowns.
Andre Ellington helped convince Bruce, originally strictly a Gamecocks basketball signee, to play college football. Part of the sales job was an "if I can do it, you can do it" approach.
Bruce was asked Wednesday if Andre's advice will weigh heavily again.
Ellington is better than Ace Sanders, the Gamecocks' similarly smallish wide receiver who left for the NFL as a junior last year and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' fourth round draft pick.
For now, Gamecock fans can still enjoy Ellington. Maybe for one more football season, at least for Orlando.
"He's always been special," South Carolina wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. "I can name a lot of amazing plays he's made here. He just has a knack of doing it."
A Bruce Ellington touchdown pass was overdue.
"We've practiced that play every day all year long," Spurrier Jr. said, "and we finally got to throw it."
The fourth-down catch was a work of playground art.
"I just saw the ball coming and told myself 'Go get it,'" Ellington said.
"God blessed me with the ability to play football," Ellington said. "I'm just thankful for it."
The attitude doesn't hurt Ellington's NFL stock, either.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff