COLUMBIA — Bruce Ellington said his hamstring was fine, but the Detroit Lions might not have been too happy seeing him jump and down on the sideline Saturday afternoon, cheering on his alma mater as it attempted to beat Arkansas.
No problem, Ellington said. He just still gets excited watching South Carolina play basketball.
“I was one of the guys who was here when (Frank Martin) first got here,” Ellington said. “To see the things that he’s doing, the changes that he’s making, and getting the (wins), that’s always good.”
Ellington came back for USC’s Legends Weekend, of course stopping by his Moncks Corner home to see his mother and taking advantage of the slim breaks in the life of an NFL wide receiver. The troublesome hamstring that’s cycled him on and off the injured reserve list and through four NFL teams is doing fine, he said.
He’s always looking to get better, and now it’s about proving to the Lions that he’ll be in top shape for the whole season. Ellington caught 23 passes in his only four games for Detroit last year after starting the season with Houston.
“Next year I hopefully can get rid of it and play football,” he said. “That’s all I want to do.”
In the meantime, home. Basketball. USC, where he starred first as a basketball player, then a football player.
“Always good to be home,” said Ellington, who played at Berkeley High School. “People have been so good to me, coming here, playing football, playing basketball, they always showed love to me, I always show love to them.”
Ellington was already on the football plan when Martin arrived, having spent his sophomore year splitting the two sports. That stayed in place under Martin, although in Ellington’s final year, he only played three basketball games.
That didn’t matter. Martin still loves him like a son and never held his NFL decision against him, although he surely could have used Ellington’s talents in his second season.
“I don’t know if you guys saw Bruce Ellington coaching from the other side. He knows what I’m calling, he knows what we do,” Martin joked after the Gamecocks’ comeback win over Arkansas. “I didn’t have to worry about standing up, with that extended box and walking. He had me covered on the other side.”
Ellington still plays pickup when he can, since he reckons every NFL player he ever met (although only one is Antonio Gates) thinks he could have been an All-American in college basketball. Another former Gamecock that he lives near in Houston is the only steady opponent, though.
“I just tell them all, ‘Check my stats,’” he said. “Me and Johnathan Joseph get in the gym and play a lot, but I don’t think anybody wants that challenge.”
And there are always the memories. In the last year before Martin, Ellington drove the lane and banked in a layup to beat Alabama.
Even after 44 games in five NFL seasons, he checks his basketball highlights.