Penn State senior Nick Scott brings contagious energy to special teams
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State star running back Saquon Barkley returned opening kickoff for a touchdown last week against Indiana, but he was not the only one making plays on special teams.
Indiana's J-Shun Harris, who has returned two punts for touchdowns this season, was tracked by Irvin Charles on a punt return, and the ball came free. Teammate Nick Scott was in the perfect position for the scoop-and-score and his first touchdown of the season. Scott described the play as “special.”
“We have a standard here and a lot of guys come in here and are phenomenal returners, like the guy from Pitt (Quadree Henderson),” Scott said. “We play to a standard on our coverage units, and we take a lot of pride in shutting guys down that have made a name for themselves in the return game.”
This wasn't Scott's first career touchdown, as he was a running back in previous years. He had a hand in two touchdowns in 2015, a rushing TD against Illinois and throwing for a score to former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
However, the fifth-year senior has converted to special teams and seen some time at both safety positions this season, something he seems more and more comfortable with. Scott will look to make some more big plays when No. 4 Penn State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) travels to Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday.
“(Safeties) coach (Tim) Banks does a great job of preparing the safety group as a whole,” Scott said. “I'm really confident that anybody can go in there when necessary to help the team out. But, yeah I'm just proud of my growth so far. Each rep I take in the game I'm trying to take it to the best of my ability and each time I come off I'm trying to learn a little bit more so I can keep contributing as a safety.”
Coach James Franklin has preached the importance of the special teams unit this year. He said the rewards of the investments of the special teams unit were paying off following the 52-0 win over Akron and called the unit the most improved over the past year and a half after the Georgia State victory. His praise continued following Saturday's win over Indiana, and he singled out Scott as one of the standout players.
“I don't know if I've seen a better half of special teams in my 23 years of doing this,” Franklin said. “That has been something that we've worked really hard on and invested in since we've been here.”
Scott is not just known for his special teams play, but also his hard hits and energy he brings to each game. Last season against Maryland, he had a highlight-reel hit on Maryland return man Will Likely. This season, Scott picked Pitt running back Darrin Hall off the ground and dropped him hard. Scott said he got a lot of messages about the hit, he even joked some said he should try out for WWE. Along with those highlight tackles, Scott's energy can be felt by his peers on the football field.
“We thrive on Nick's energy,” linebacker Cam Brown said. “Sometimes you look at him on the field and he's just laughing and giggling for no reason. So we kind of thrive off of that and it brings the energy, because not everybody wants to do special teams all the time. Like we know it's not the most glorious thing, but Nick definitely makes it a little bit better for us.”
Punter Blake Gillikin reiterated Brown's comments about Scott's energy and added Scott means everything to the special teams unit.
“That guy is our captain, he's our leader and he's selfless,” Gillikin said. “He's kind of the centerpiece for our success on special teams.”