Article Provided by The Gamecock Newspaper
By: Alex Riley
Issue date: 7/27/05 Section: Sports
In an age of pocket passers and high-flying offensive strategy, former Gamecock quarterback Todd Ellis still shines above all other USC passers as the career leader with the numbers to back it up.
When Ellis graduated from USC in 1989, he left behind a legacy of almost every record a quarterback could have. His 9,953 career yards are still good enough for the career best by a Gamecock passer. His .553 completion percentage is still third best, while his 49 career touchdowns places him at the second all-time of any position.
He holds numerous spots in the single-game passing, attempts and completions records, while his 3,206 yards in 1987 is the best ever by a Carolina quarterback in a single season. Twenty-five games with more than 200 yards passing, including a 425-yard performance against East Carolina in 1987, highlight Ellis' numbers sprinkled throughout the USC record book.
"We were on the cutting edge with the 'run and shoot,'" Ellis said. "I just got the opportunities to make the throws."
But there was more to the success of the Greensboro, N.C., native than just his numbers. Ellis took on a system under the late coach Joe Morrison that allowed him to shine in Columbia and nationally.
After the Black Magic season of 1984, the USC faithful were looking for a leader to guide them back to national prominence, and they got just that with Ellis.
"There were a couple of reasons (I chose USC): Number one, it was the time Carolina was coming off its 10-2 season, the Black Magic season and the national exposure had never been higher down here," Ellis said. "The fan base was (at its best here), and support was not going to be a problem. We played a great independent schedule back then. We got to play the Georgias, Nebraskas and Miamis, and even though we weren't in a conference, we got to play on a national level."
Back-to-back 8-4 seasons were the best two-year run by any Gamecock teams until the 2000 and 2001 campaigns, and Ellis' 23 victories under center leave him as the winningest field general in USC history.
"The number of victories, no one has ever won more games in their career than I have. That's probably what I'm most proud of," Ellis said.
Two of the biggest wins with Ellis at the helm came during that two-year run. In 1987, USC and Clemson both arrived in Columbia as top-20 teams, but the Gamecocks dominated in a 20-7 win against the Tigers.
"Danny Ford would call that game the one time his team was intimidated," Ellis said.
The following season, Ellis brought sixth-ranked Georgia to their knees, as Robert Brooks corralled a one-handed, over-the-shoulder touchdown from Ellis to highlight a 23-10 win against the Bulldogs.
One of the biggest influences on Ellis' success came from the man who brought him to Carolina, coach Morrison.
"He was a man's man," Ellis said. "He expected you to act like a man, he told you what needed to be done, and if didn't get it done, it was partly your problem. He was a tough competitor and a man you wanted to play for."
Along with Morrison's guidance, Ellis lined up with three of the biggest offensive stars to rise out of the Carolina program. Wide receivers Sterling Sharpe and Robert Brooks, along with running back Harold Green, allowed Ellis to run multifaceted and deadly offense.
"There was nobody better than those guys," Ellis said. "Sterling Sharpe built himself like Robert Brooks did, through hard work into being great players. I think the most natural athlete was Harold Green. Harold came in and was capable of busting runs against anybody at any time when he was a freshman and was just an incredible athlete. The work ethic of Sterling and Robert is what made them great players, and we fit in perfectly. I respect those players today more for their work ethic than their overall skills."
While Ellis was surrounded by some of the finest names to play at Carolina, his accolades don't lie. In 1986, Ellis earned a spot on The Sporting News's All-America Second Team and Freshmen First Team, followed by an AP All-America honorable mention in 1987. He also managed a strong run at the Heisman Trophy, while shattering numerous NCAA records.
Ellis also guided USC back to national glory, taking the Gamecocks to back-to-back bowl berths in the 1987 Gator Bowl and 1988 Liberty Bowl, while rising as high as the top five in the national polls.
"It was a thrill to be a part of that and get some national exposure at times," Ellis said. "At certain times we were ranked in the top five and consistently stayed around the top 25. That's what its all about. You don't come here to be mediocre, you want to go to bowl games, and you want to win."
After finishing his college career, Ellis was selected by the Denver Broncos in the ninth round of the NFL draft. But being behind two 10-year league veterans, one being Hall of Famer John Elway, put the Broncos in a tight spot, dropping Ellis from the roster before the season opener. After a short stint in the World League, Ellis returned to Columbia with his wife to attend law school. He has become a successful attorney in the Columbia area.
Ellis has not lost his love for the game and team that made him a hero. While he wears a suit to court Monday through Friday, Saturday's are reserved for a more garnet-and-black look, as Ellis serves as radio announcer for Gamecock football.
"I love the feel of being around the program," Ellis said. "I got the best seat in the house now. It is a great thrill for me to come back to call the games at Williams-Brice. And to go see the best football in the country and to try to convey to the listeners how good it is to be a Gamecock, there's nothing else like it."