Spring Practice Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Like the thousands of Penn State fans across the country, Nick Scott marveled at the dazzling performances Saquon Barkley manufactured as a true freshman.
Working out alongside Barkley in the backfield, Scott debuted as a redshirt freshman in 2015, impacting the team on offense and serving as an ace on special teams.
One of 17 redshirt freshmen to see playing time last fall, Scott appeared in all 13 games and tallied 133 rushing yards on 30 carries and scored one touchdown. The Fairfax, Va., native also had four receptions for 43 yards. He averaged 23.8 yards on 13 kickoff returns and made eight tackles on the team's coverage units.
For his prowess, Scott was named the recipient of the John Bruno Memorial Award, which is handed out to the team's most outstanding special teams player.
Clearly, Scott illustrated his athletic ability on the field when given the opportunity to play. Head coach James Franklin frequently talked about how Scott's attitude on special teams set the tone for the Nittany Lions.
Like any student-athlete, though, Scott wanted to impact the team in the best way possible. Scott was recruited as a running back out of Fairfax High School and rushed for 1,582 yards en route to all-state honors as a senior. He served as a key member of the offensive scout team in 2014 before taking the game field for the first time last fall.
That said, it could not have been easy for Scott to initiate a conversation with Coach Franklin after the TaxSlayer Bowl about switching positions. It was something that Scott and some of the coaches had talked about briefly during his first two seasons on campus, but the redshirt sophomore was serious about a change to the defensive backfield leading up to 2016.
"Watching Saquon Barkley and seeing just how special of a player he was, and knowing that I am a competitor and do what is best for the team, I wanted to go to Coach Franklin to help any way I could," Scott said.
Immediately after the decision finalized, Scott knew he had plenty of work to do. He called several of his teammates from the secondary.
"I said, 'Listen, I've got to make up some ground,'" said Scott. "I hadn't played defense since high school. And even then, I was more of an offensive guy. But I knew that I could play."
Junior safety Marcus Allen was among the first teammates Scott talked to on the phone.
"The first day I let Marcus (Allen) know, I think it was the day after I made the switch, he took me under his wing," said Scott. "He said, 'Ok, you switched. We are going to Holuba tomorrow. Bring your cleats.'"
Scott worked out with Allen and redshirt freshman Jarvis Miller on day one to learn some of the basics and acquire background information on the defensive scheme. Scott said Allen's leadership was a big boost to helping him get started with the transition.
"I always felt that I was athletic enough to play defense, but the thing I really wanted to emphasize during winter conditioning was my footwork," said Scott. "That's something that feels completely different when you move to defense. You have to make a lot of cuts and get your hips in the right spot. I understood that I had some work to do."
Knowing it would be a big adjustment, Scott approached the change like he does everything - with a positive attitude. You won't find a guy who has a smile on his face more than Scott. He has an infectious personality, and he loves being around his teammates and truly enjoys every facet of being a student-athlete.
"I love playing defense," said Scott. "I'm a guy who has never been shy on special teams, and I love being on the defense. The coaches were great during the process because they just told me to fly around and have fun. Once you understand the scheme, you can go out and play and have fun. Their advice was to work hard and do my best to perfect the tasks I'm given."
When it came time to head onto the field for the first time on March 18 to begin spring practice, Scott donned a dark blue jersey with his fellow defenders for the first time in his career. It was a different feel for a guy who had been accustomed to the offense's white.
"It was a little weird putting that blue jersey on during the first day of spring practice," said Scott. "I think I almost ran with the offense (laughter)."
With each passing day, the Virginia product looks more and more like a guy who is a natural in the secondary. And Scott knows things will continue to grow from here.
"I think I'm definitely getting more comfortable every single day as I learn more about the system and understanding what my role is on the defense," said Scott. "I'm having a lot of fun. I think the last (week) of practices have been the most fun I've had because I'm getting comfortable. I was able to play at a good speed."
The evolution in the defensive backfield will continue long after the Blue-White Game on April 16, but Scott is committed to the process.
"I just want to show my teammates and the coaches that no matter where I'm at, I'm going to play hard and give 100 percent. Obviously, I want to have a lot of fun and just compete," said Scott.
To best serve the team, Scott gave up an opportunity to be a running back at Penn State. But if he had the chance to make the decision again, he wouldn't hesitate to do what's best for the team.
"I think the guys on the team would agree with me when I say that I always want to put the team first," said Scott. "I'm at the place I want to be - Penn State. So to me, it didn't matter what I was doing as long as I'm part of the program I love."
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony