Nick Scott came to Penn State with designs on being a running back and kickoff returner.
In fact, after redshirting in 2014, he showed some impressive versatility in 2015 as a redshirt freshman, averaging 4.4 yards on 30 carries, catching four passes and even completing a couple, including a throwback touchdown pass to Christian Hackenberg.
There was one problem: An impressive young freshman had also just arrived.
His name was Saquon Barkley, and he immediately became the focal part of the offense.
Now how in the heck could that decision be made, Scott was asked, tongue-in-cheek, the other day during Penn State’s preparation for its Citrus Bowl matchup with Kentucky.
He cracked a big smile.
“More power to Saquon,” Scott said. “He had the credentials.”
Though he had already flashed his potential as an offensive player, including on special teams, Scott was moved to safety in 2016.
“That was part of my growth here, as a young man as well as a football player,” the now fifth-year senior captain said. “It’s boded well. My understanding of offense helped me grasp the defense. It’s an opportunity I’m thankful for.”
Scott wound up with 33 tackles this season, including three on special teams, three interceptions (in the last six games) and a recovered fumble.
“Having an opportunity to play next to Nick has been so great,” fellow safety Garrett Taylor said. “He’s a guy who’s always worked hard and kept his head down.”
The well-spoken Scott, called by defensive coordinator Brent Pry as “our most complete guy,” comes from a family rooted in education. His parents are both teachers, and his father is now in his second year as a Harvard professor.
As much as Scott prides himself on what his play has meant to the 9-3 Nittany Lions, he feels equally good about his role as a team leader, along with Trace McSorley.
“I’m really proud,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, having gone through adversity. I joke about the running back thing, but that wasn’t necessarily easy to do. I’m sort of proud of how I was able to take that adversity and still influence this team in positive ways and show these guys what it takes to compete at this level.”
That mentorship has not been limited to defense.
“I knew Nick since my recruiting days,” running back Miles Sanders said. “He’s a good leader, and I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from him, on and off the field.”
“Nick has always been a leader,” Taylor, a fellow Virginian with another year of eligibility remaining, said. “He’s done a great job taking me under his wings on what it means to be a leader.”
Scott praised Taylor as “one of the hardest workers I know” and predicted “he’ll do a great job in leading those guys next year.”
Penn State, has been producing its share of quality safeties in recent years, a credit to assistant coach Tim Banks, and Scott has tried to uphold that tradition. Adrian Amos, Malik Golden, Jordan Lucas, Marcus Allen and Troy Apke are all on NFL rosters.
“A lot of extremely smart safeties, physical guys,” Scott said. “Amos is a guy I looked up to. Marcus, Jesse Della Valle. Our safety room has had a high standard of talent. Going into this season, I wanted to make sure I upheld the standard and made those guys proud. Trap (Apke), Malik. It’s a sense of pride because I know what those guys have done, and you want to compete to that level.”
Scott is hopeful to get his chance in the NFL, but first he knows a challenge awaits with a defensive-minded Kentucky team.
“They definitely are real talented on defense,” he said. “I know our offensive players look at it as a challenge to be able to play a guy (defensive end Josh Allen) and a defense with so much notoriety.”
Scott was in James Franklin’s first recruiting class, and he’ll be remembered as part of the foundation that contributed to a Big Ten championship, a Fiesta Bowl win over Washington and stands one victory from straight 10-win seasons.
“Penn State has always kind of been in my blood,” he said, adding former Lion receiver Corey Jones (1996-99) is his godfather. “To be part of a rebuilding process is something I couldn’t pass up.”
The record book will list him as a one-year starter, but given all the ways he touched this program, it’s clear Nick Scott has meant much more than that to Penn State.
Now, if only that Barkley kid didn’t come along.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.