Nick Scott sat in an office chair in the Lasch Football Building on Oct. 2, the Nittany Lions’ 27-26 loss to Ohio State still fresh. The fifth-year senior, days after addressing a heartbroken locker room, expressed optimism about the remainder of Penn State’s slate. On the bye week, he was thinking about Michigan State and avoiding a letdown.
But Scott also had time for reflection. A former running back turned special teams linchpin, the starting safety went through quite a bit to be sitting in that chair on that Tuesday afternoon. Scott, who committed on Feb. 23, 2013, has been a constant in Penn State’s program. But he’s a different person now than he was when James Franklin called him into his office as a freshman.
Saturday is Senior Day, which means Scott will play in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd for a final time. Nearly two months earlier, he previewed his Happy Valley goodbye.
CDT: I remember we sat down for an interview two years ago, and the storyline was your transition from running back to making an impact on special teams. Now, you go from special teams captain to a defensive captain. How has that worked out for you on the defensive side of the ball?
Scott: You know, one of the challenges I thought I might have coming in being a captain of the defense was having that voice and at the same time being less experienced on the defensive side of the ball. Sort of balancing that. How do you lead guys like Shareef Miller, who’s had a prominent role for a number of years? Koa Farmer, guys like that. I guess that comes with knowing your boundaries and working and when you start making plays, your voice becomes a little more prominent.
CDT: Do you talk with any of the guys who moved on? Jason Cabinda, Marcus Allen, those guys. Obviously, there was a lot made of their departures in the offseason.
Scott: Jason, we were always real close. We were roommates freshman year and always real tight. Marcus, he’s a close friend of mine. I gain a lot of insight and experience from those guys. Picking their brain on how they led and what worked for them. You know, Marcus was a huge energy guy with how he played and his voice, and Jason was like a coach on the field with his knowledge of the game. Listening to those guys and gaining perspective on how they were able to do that, it was really helpful.
CDT: Did those guys give you one piece of advice that stuck with you?
Scott: Jason’s constantly telling me to keep doing what got me here. Don’t change or be a different person now that you’re a leader on the defense. Don’t change your playing style. Just be who I am. Own that, and use that to lead.
CDT: What did get you here?
Scott: I would just say being humble and playing extremely hungry and aggressive. That’s how I played on special teams. I had to understand my role at the time. Just doing that wholeheartedly, and it’s the same now as a safety.
CDT: Is it different now though starting on defense? For an outsider, it looks more prominent starting on the defense, starting at free safety.
Scott: I’m free safety. But we call it strong.
CDT: Wait what?
Scott: Coach Shoop jacked us all up years ago. It’s really confusing. Technically, Garrett (Taylor) is what the football world calls a strong safety, but we call it free. And I would be a free safety in the football world, but we call it strong. That’s how we’ve been doing it for four or five years now.
CDT: That’s confusing. But you mentioned it’s been four or five years. Some guys coming in, like freshman Isaiah Humphries, are probably getting screwed up by that right now. He probably has no idea who (former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator) Bob Shoop is.
Scott: Oh, probably no idea. No idea. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen the growth of this program. I have a tremendous amount of pride, as a freshman seeing what this program was inside and out. … It’s surreal. But this is what you want to see when you’re leaving. Your team, your university, you want to see that growth. You want to be able to look back and say, ‘I was a part of that.’ Building and expanding it. I’ve seen a lot of people come, a lot of people go. Thank God Franklin wasn’t one of them. He’s done a phenomenal job here.
CDT: Were you ever concerned that he would be gone? With some of the talk surrounding him a couple years ago.
Scott: Ummm, maybe up until that Ohio State game. After that, I was like, ‘He’s fine. He’s sitting pretty.’ (laughs)
CDT: That staying power, though, the fact that you’ve been around this team, around this program, around this building for so long. How much does that factor in in terms of the respect you get from teammates?
Scott: I think it factors in a lot. … Those younger guys knowing and understanding that I was there when we were 7-5, 7-6, I know what it took in the offseason to be 11-2 versus 7-6 and the changes that are necessary and the work that’s required. If you hear an older guy saying, ‘We need to do more,’ that carries a lot more weight because I know from experience. I’m telling you guys what I know.
CDT: The list might be long, but for you to get where you are now, who has meant the most to you in this program?
Scott: Oh, that’s a hard question. I’m going to leave someone out.
CDT: First person that comes to mind.
Scott: I would say Coach Franklin. I look up to him as a leader. Early on, before I was even named a captain, he talked to me and identified me as a leader, which helped me grow into that role. He believed in me to lead guys in my class. I remember talking to him as a freshman, it was me and Jason. And I can’t remember what happened with our class, but he called us in to his office, and he said, ‘You guys are leaders of this freshman class. You’re guys we look at as positive role models.’ He was already priming me sort of to grow up into this leadership role.
CDT: What did that conversation mean to you?
Scott: It meant the world. I was a redshirt. When you’re a redshirt, you don’t feel like you have any role on the team. … Just hearing that from him, when I know he has bigger fish to fry — when he’s dealing with coaches and other teams — and he’s noticed that I’m a positive guy for this team, it meant the world. Everyday I try to live up to that.
CDT: That in mind, how do you want to be remembered when you leave?
Scott: When my name comes up, I want people to think, ‘Oh yeah, that guy was unselfish. And he did everything this team asked him to do.’ I don’t care about accolades. I just want to be looked at as someone who positively impacted this team.