CLEMSON — Growing up in Moncks Corner, the competition was constant.
Video games. Football. Basketball. Wrestling.
It didn’t matter the sport or activity: there was always a winner, always a loser.
No matter the outcome, Andre and Bruce Ellington couldn’t wait for the next event.
The two are cousins, but they spent plenty of time together under their grandmother’s roof, along with Bruce’s older brother. Facing off in anything they could think of became a way of life.
“I think it’s in our blood,” Andre said. “We never want to lose; we compete with each other. One has to lose, and then we keep going at it until the next time.”
Saturday, their competition finds the most important stage in the Palmetto State.
Andre, Clemson’s standout junior tailback, and Bruce, a redshirt freshman wide receiver for South Carolina, will be on opposite sides of the state’s most heated rivalry. Clemson (9-2) and South Carolina (9-2) will meet at 7:45 p.m.
Their large, extended family will be watching, wearing specially-printed T-shirts honoring both players.
The winner could have bragging rights that last a lifetime. Bruce came to USC on a basketball scholarship, but decided to join the football team this season after watching Andre play football at Clemson.
It is unclear whether he’ll have a second season: he is expected to rejoin the Gamecocks’ basketball team in time for next week’s Clemson-USC hoops showdown, and it is not known whether he’ll repeat the grind next fall.
“I’ve got family that loves the Gamecocks so growing up I was a Gamecock all along,” Bruce said. “When Andre went to Clemson I kind of found out how the environment’s gonna be when Carolina plays Clemson. I’m just excited I’m going to be able to play in this game.”
The two say they’re as close as brothers, and Bruce said Andre, two years older than he, served as an excellent role model growing up.
“ I watched him and saw what he did,” Bruce said. “We’ve been growing up together ever since we were little. If he got off the bus I’d be waiting right there and he’d be there for my bus so we’re just like brothers.”
Growing up, Andre’s focus was football; he was one of the nation’s top tailback recruits when he signed with Clemson in 2008.
Bruce focused on hoops; he was one of the nation’s top 60 overall recruits when he signed with USC, and made the SEC’s All-Freshman team after averaging 12.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last winter.
Andre says Bruce is “far more athletic than I am,” which brought out his competitive streak on the hardwood.
“I wasn’t really a basketball player,” he said. “But playing against him, I knew he was a great player, and I wanted to push him the best way I knew how.”
In a way, Andre pushed Bruce onto the gridiron, too. The younger Ellington watched his cousin’s success as a Clemson freshman, which had an impact.
“I could tell by him coming to some of the games when I was a freshman,” Andre said. “He saw the atmosphere, and got excited.”
Still, the decision to play football came as something of a surprise.
“He kind of had that mindset of playing basketball at first,” Andre said. “It kind of shocked me when I heard he was going to play football. I knew in the back of his mind it was something he really wanted to do.”
It was done, both said, without Andre’s consultation.
“I made that decision on my own,” Bruce said. “ He talked to me and said if I want to play basketball and football go do what I’ve got to do. So I did that on my own.”
This fall, Bruce has done a little bit of everything. Lining up primarily as a wide receiver, he has 14 receptions for 140 yards, 17 carries for 106 yards and a score and has even completed three of four passes for 27 yards while lining up in the Wildcat formation.
Andre has battled hamstring and ankle injuries, but still has 871 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, as well as 18 receptions for 109 yards as the Tigers’ primary tailback.
The two talk after every game, but their communication has been a bit limited; both said they asked about the health of the other’s ankle, since both have dealt with recent leg injuries.
“There’s no trash talking or anything like that,” Bruce said.
As for Saturday night? We’ll see.
“We know at the end of the day it’s all fun and games,” Andre said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Injury report: Clemson is getting healthier entering Saturday’s game. The Tigers’ injury report, sent out Thursday, indicated that five offensive contributors injured over the past two weeks are probable for this week. Starting left tackle Phillip Price (sprained MCL ligament), standout freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins (sprained shoulder), T.L. Hanna product Martavis Bryant (neck), guard Brandon Thomas (knee) and starting right tackle Landon Walker (hamstring) are all expected to play at USC.