Is Football Back in Ellington's Future?

Bruce Ellington

Why don't you play football?

Basketball became Bruce Ellington's first love the day his mother signed him up in fourth grade. But football has never been all that far behind.

As a college freshman, Ellington is the South Carolina basketball team's leading scorer. But all anyone seems to want to talk about with the former Berkeley High School star is how he can help the Gamecocks football team.

The internal conflict has always been there. It has existed within Ellington. It has existed in Moncks Corner, his football-frenzied hometown that watched Ellington lead the Stags to a state title his senior season.

And now it exists at USC, an environment that is defined more by what happens at Williams-Brice Stadium than inside Colonial Life Arena.

Students meet Ellington and immediately bring up football. Current football players do the same. Even his cousin, Clemson running back Andre Ellington, talks in the Upstate about settling on the field which Ellington is the better football player.

"I still get asked to this day if I'm going to play or not," Ellington said. "I guess they think I'm pretty good in football and should have played."

Ellington is extremely affable, greeting strangers like old friends. So, it's not as if he tires of the football question.

"I knew it was going to come," he said. "I just give them the same answer: Basketball's my passion, and that's what I am going to play."

But that doesn't mean Ellington could not play both at USC.

The two-sport athlete is becoming a rarity at the college level. But so is one that gets heavily recruited to play both basketball and football by major Division I programs, as Ellington was.

In most cases, a football player will walk on with the basketball team, scarcely providing an impact in both sports.

North Carolina's Ronald Curry was really the last prospect to be sought after by high-level programs in both basketball and football, but his college career never lived up to the high school hype.

Already Ellington, leading the Gamecocks with 14.5 points and 3.5 assists a game, has shown he is an SEC-level point guard.

But could he juggle both, potentially helping the football team as a wildcat quarterback, receiver and return man?

"I mean, I can't close the door on it," Ellington said, choosing his words carefully. "I think about it a lot. I can't lie to you. I do think about playing football."

When he's back home, Ellington said he sometimes watches his Berkeley High School football videos.

"It's still a part of me," he said. "I'm a competitor and I love to compete. I'm just not sure if I'm going to play it in college."

Ellington said he asked Gamecocks All-America receiver Alshon Jeffery why he didn't try to play both football and basketball. Jeffery told him he didn't want to do the stringent workout plan for both sports -- something that also causes Ellington to hesitate.

Basketball coach Darrin Horn said he's focused right now on what Ellington is doing for the Gamecocks on the hardwood. He said he hasn't recently talked with Ellington about football. Ellington said he's spoken a couple of times with members of coach Steve Spurrier's football staff, but nothing has formally materialized.

Multiple sources close to the football team, though, are convinced that Ellington is seriously considering going out for spring football.

One reason Ellington might eventually explore football is because of a brighter professional future in the sport. Making a 15-man NBA roster is far more difficult than a 53-man NFL squad.

"I think he could probably get to the next level playing both sports," said Ryan Stewart, who played five seasons with the Detroit Lions and is thought of as one of the top athletes to come out of Berkeley County. "Because of the numbers game, with football versus basketball, football probably would be the easier route. But to each his own. I know that he loves both sports -- and that he really loves basketball."

USC's basketball staff also thinks Ellington could make it in the NBA, likening him to former North Carolina guard Ty Lawson.

Ellington was a virtually unknown basketball commodity until a couple of West Coast AAU tournaments in the summer of 2009 vaulted him to a top-50 recruit.

"It took about a second and a half to realize we had a special talent," said Jeff DiBattisto, the former Bishop England High School coach who worked with Ellington's AAU team. "I'd never seen a kid that fast with a basketball in his hands."

Horn thought so, too. USC was the first major program to recruit Ellington. Ellington appreciated Horn's loyalty and stayed in state.

"We expected him to be a major contributor and one of the best point guards in our league early on," Horn said. "I think he's done that.

"We're not surprised by anything he's doing."

Ellington is currently blazing his own path, he said, by playing basketball. Then again, playing two sports would accomplish the same thing.

He's one of USC's best basketball players; some close to him believe the same could be true on the football field.

"He won a state championship in high school. He can play on either side of the ball. He can play anywhere," said Stewart, an Atlanta radio host who is Ellington's distant cousin. "I'm sure for him playing football would be like riding a bike. He's never going to forget. He's an incredible kid and an athlete. I'm sure he'd be a hell of a football player in the SEC."