Before the trio enrolled at Penn State in 2014, safety Nick Scott, quarterback Trace McSorley and linebacker Jason Cabinda met up to play pick-up basketball in the signal-caller’s hometown of Ashburn, Va.
Cabinda, a New Jersey native, was visiting family, Scott lived 20 minutes away, and the three figured, “Why not?” They were going to be future teammates; might as well get used to playing with each other.
“Little did we know that we’d mesh so well and one day become captains,” Scott said on a conference call Tuesday. “That’s just God. Who else could’ve predicted that?”
Of the three recently announced 2017 captains, Scott’s journey to a leadership role is the most improbable. A high school quarterback-turned-running back commit who later moved to safety, Scott has bounced around quite a bit the last few years.
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But approaching his redshirt junior season at Penn State, Scott is settled. A captain competing for a starting job at safety, he’s in his comfort zone — and aiming to leave his mark on the Nittany Lions.
“When I moved to safety, I wanted to be the best safety right away. I never looked at being a running back as being a crutch,” said Scott, who switched to the defensive side of the ball last offseason. “I joke around with a lot of people, but when I moved to defense, I realized, ‘Hey, maybe I’ve been a defensive player my whole career, and I just didn’t know it.’ Once I moved to defense, I felt like it was my home, especially considering how reckless I play and how aggressive I am.”
Scott displayed that dynamic nature in 2016 with eight special teams tackles, including a jaw-dropping hit on Maryland punt returner Will Likely. He’ll try to carry that same attitude over to safety.
It’s a crowded group, with Ayron Monroe, Troy Apke, Garrett Taylor and John Petrishen competing with Scott for the starting spot left by Malik Golden, alongside Marcus Allen. But Scott has taken two pivotal steps to achieving at the very least an important role on the defense, if not the starting job: 1) grow as a leader, and 2) establish himself as a defensive-minded player.
The first box was checked when James Franklin and Penn State announced in late March that Scott would join Cabinda and McSorley as the unquestioned leaders of the 2017 Nittany Lions. The three captains were selected by players and coaches alike, and Franklin said the voting wasn’t really close.
Scott was a team leader, according to his peers, something that was difficult to grasp at first.
“When it happened, it was hard to fathom,” Scott acknowledged. “It almost made everything about this program so much more personal for me. It made me feel like I’m that much more a part of our success or failures. It’s a little bit of a heavy feeling, but it’s a good heavy feeling, because I understand that gravity of what it means to be a captain. I’m ready to take on those responsibilities full-force.”
That second aspect — molding himself as a safety — took a bit of time. Whether it was sitting in the film room last year with Golden or hitting the jug machine this spring with Allen, Scott has, throughout the last 12 months, done everything he can to cement himself as a defensive back.
Teammates and coaches are seeing it, too.
“He’s an athlete,” Allen said. “He can run. He can jump out of the gym. Nick’s just doing his thing right now.”
Franklin added, “Nick Scott has probably had as good of an offseason as anyone on our team.”
With the Blue-White Game next weekend, Scott has a few more chances this spring to prove why he deserves to be considered for the starting spot next to Allen. As a leader and contributor, he’s come a long way from being a teenager playing pick-up with McSorley and Cabinda — and the Nittany Lions are better off for it.
“I’m way more comfortable as a defensive player,” Scott said. “I’m identifying myself as a defensive player and not someone who’s trying to become that. ... I’m happy with the path I took to get here because I think it’ll help me in the long-run.”