MONCKS CORNER, S.C. — Gone are the days when Bruce Ellington would rush from a basketball workout with South Carolina teammates to a football meeting room to learn the complex schemes of coach Steve Spurrier. Ellington’s only focus is the San Francisco 49ers and making an impact on the NFL.
“It was fun, all the rushing around,” said Ellington, taken in the fourth round by the 49ers. “I thought I could do and I went after it.”
Ellington hosted a youth camp Friday at his high school with his older cousin, Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington who twice rushed for 1,000 yards while playing college ball at Clemson.
Bruce Ellington actually pared down his workload in college after playing three sports — he ran track, too — at Berkeley High. He helped his school win a state football title his senior year and many figured he slide nicely into South Carolina’s rising football program.
Instead, he decided his future was solely on the court. He led the Gamecocks in scoring as a freshman in 2010-11, starting all 30 games. But when South Carolina struggled to win games, Ellington felt like he was missing out not playing alongside football standouts like Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore and Stephone Gilmore — also Palmetto State prep stars.
“I didn’t say much about it,” Andre Ellington said. “But I knew he was going to miss football.”
So Bruce began a two-sport odyssey that continued for three years until January, when he gave up his senior seasons in basketball and football to jump to the NFL.
“It took some time to realize what I wanted to do,” Ellington said. “This is it.”
And Ellington believes he’ll continue improving in the pros. At 5-foot-9, Ellington is tied for the shortest receiver on the 49ers’ roster. But Ellington’s got a relentless nature for finding open space and holding onto almost everything thrown his way, said his former high school coach Jerry Brown.
“Football’s played on a big field and it’s hard to track someone like Bruce who’s got so much agility,” Brown said.
Ellington found his football form as a sophomore when he was South Carolina’s top receiver with 40 catches for 600 yards and seven touchdowns, including a 32-yard grab with 11 seconds left to beat Michigan in the Outback Bowl two years ago.
Ellington was again South Carolina’s top receiver in 2013. His best regular-season showing came at Missouri when he had 10 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-24, double-overtime victory. Ellington saved the game in the first overtime with his fourth-and-goal, 15-yard TD catch to keep things going.
“I think that may have been my favorite moment,” he said, smiling.
Ellington capped his college career with his most versatile game: He had nine catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns to beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Ellington also threw a nine-yard TD pass to quarterback Connor Shaw.
Ellington kept his football mentality while continually playing and training with basketball teammates. South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin never saw Ellington’s intensity drop, no matter what he had done to prepare for football.
Ellington, 22, swears he never got worn down at playing or prepping for two major college sports at a Southeastern Conference school.
“I’m a young guy,” he said. “It’s hard to get tired.”
Ellington believes he can bring that drive to the 49ers. The team hasn’t put expectations on him and he won’t either, eager to prove his worth when the games start. And no, he says he’s not planning a call to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors to see if he can get in some hoops action in his down time.
“I’m just going to work hard, give it a hundred (percent) every time I step on the field and keep on chasing the dream,” he said.