CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson running back Andre Ellington figured he’d one day have a family football rivalry to deal with. He just wasn’t sure it would take this long for younger cousin Bruce to return to football with South Carolina.
Andre led the Tigers with 12 touchdowns last season, despite missing most of the final five games because with a foot injury. Bruce was a star from the start as the Gamecocks’ point guard, topping the basketball team with in scoring (12.8 points a game) and 3-pointers (61) and making the Southeastern Conference all-freshman team.
But Bruce also was a football state champion at Berkeley High and never washed the sport from his blood upon enrolling at South Carolina. He made it official in March, joining Steve Spurrier’s 12th-ranked Gamecocks and setting up some serious trash talk in the Ellington clan.
“I told (Andre), if I play defense, I’ll cut him because he got a little bigger over the summer,” Bruce said, grinning.
The two speak as often as possible, although the steady grind of preseason football has limited them to a few phone calls, texts and updates from mutual friends in Moncks Corner, their hometown, the past few weeks.
Andre said all the right things about Bruce’s basketball-only choice last fall. He knew, though, that Bruce’s passion for football was too much to limit him to the court.
“I was all for him, whatever he wanted to do at the time,” Andre said. “When he told me he was going to go out for football, I said, `Well, let’s go get it. Work hard.”
Bruce has done that as perhaps the busiest South Carolina athlete.
“He’s practicing basketball in the morning and then coming out with us,” Gamecocks tailback Marcus Lattimore said.
Bruce will return to basketball, with Spurrier’s blessing, once football is over. Before then, though, both Ellingtons should play major roles this fall.
Andre, known as “Lil’ Bit” at Clemson, was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before getting hurt in a 16-10 loss at Boston College last October. He was the Tigers’ most dynamic weapon with four touchdown runs of 42 yards or longer and an 87-yard kickoff return against Maryland in 2010.
Once Andre was injured, Clemson’s offense struggled to find points. The team’s scoring average dipped from 30 points a game its first seven weeks to 18 points its final five contests to go 6-7, the Tigers’ first losing season since 1998.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Andre Ellington is as healthy as ever, and perhaps more dangerous in the first-year offense of new coordinator Chad Morris. Andre’s ready to show even more this fall. “I want to better than that guy (from last season),” Andre said. “That’s why I worked in the offseason, to be better than I was in the past.”
Cousin Bruce, a sophomore, also slipped right back into his old football form after a year of just basketball. He was solid in his belief that basketball was his path in college. But Bruce fought through a difficult first season, his team finishing 14-16 while Ellington battled injuries. The football team, meanwhile, was celebrated as SEC Eastern Division champions and Bruce acknowledged he missed the game.Bruce’s basketball coach, Darrin Horn, supports his point guard’s two-sport goals.
“This is not a football-basketball thing,” Horn said. “It’s a Bruce Ellington thing and we’re going to support him.”
Bruce has been used this summer as a receiver, a kick returner and quarterback in the wildcat formation, a style that he played to lead Berkeley High to the 2010 state title.
“We’re going to find some different ways to get him in the game and let him go play,” said Steve Spurrier Jr., South Carolina’s receivers coach. “But he’s got a real bright future in football.”
Who’s better? Neither Ellington wants to field that one. Former Berkeley High coach Jerry Brown says it’s a lot like a father picking which child is his favorite.
Both were stellar players and even better leaders for the team and the school, Brown recalled. While Andre was a workhorse runner, Bruce did just about everything for the Stags, including playing lockdown defense in the secondary.
Brown, like Andre, knew Bruce couldn’t stay away from football. “You could always see how much he loved it,” Brown said.
They’ll be some playful back and forth between the cousins as the season goes on, Brown says, especially when Clemson comes to South Carolina for the annual rivalry game Thanksgiving weekend. “But they both feed off each other’s success,” he said.
Bruce wore No. 23 with the Gamecocks’ basketball because that’s Andre’s number at Clemson. Bruce now has No. 23 in football, too. Andre texted his cousin a positive challenge last March, “You got no choice but to go out there and ball now.”
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