If you saw Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington at the mall, you probably wouldn't think that they're good college football players. At 5'8" and 5'9" respectively, you'd probably miss them entirely in a crowd.
These two played an absolutely critical role in South Carolina's 11-2 seasons over the past two years. With Sanders announcing his return and Ellington implying the same, now is a great time to take a look at the positive impact they have as players.
The Gamecocks are used to having a big go-to receiver. It was Troy Williamson, then Sidney Rice, then Kenny McKinley, then Alshon Jeffery.
All of these players were 6'1 or taller.
The fans were trying to figure out which tall receiver could take the place of Jeffery. Could it be D.L. Moore? Maybe freshmen K.J. Brent or Shaq Roland?
Meanwhile, the diminutive duo, with their rare combination of hands, speed, route running excellence, tenacity and aggressiveness—sat quietly and waited for the season to start.
Once it started, there was no more looking.
The Gamecocks had their go to guys. Not one guy, two.
Together, they combined for 85 catches, 1,131 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The Gamecocks have always had a clear number one during the Steve Spurrier Era. He would be a singular player who caught most of the passes and dominated the statistical categories. The number two receiver would be nowhere near the number one in terms of catches.
This year, you had Sanders with 45 catches and Ellington with 40. Their combined production helped the Gamecocks deliver a passing attack that was much more diverse. Teams had to keep an eye on both players at all times.
They aren't completely identical of course. Ellington is a powerful runner who often looks like a running back after the catch. Ace Sanders has elite elusiveness and can make even the best defensive backs look foolish after the catch.
These guys deserve a ton of credit for the success of the program.
They're even major players on special teams. Obviously, Ace Sanders is one of the best punt returners in the country. Bruce Ellington is the team's main kick returner and is also quite excellent.
They deserve all of the praise they are bound to receive in the preseason leading up to 2013. They'll be back and more confident than ever. They may both grow into receivers capable of 1,000 yard seasons.
By grow, you know I mean mentally. Not in terms of height.
And I have the feeling they wouldn't want it any other way.