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Nick Scott: One Hit Wonder Or Rising Star?

Redshirt freshman running back Nick Scott entered Saturday’s contest with a firm understanding of the task at hand; Akeel Lynch is the unquestioned starter at tailback, and the competition for the No. 2 position will be stiff.

Scott isn’t what many would call a “household name” just yet, given that he has yet to see live-game action with former standouts Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak holding down the fort the past few seasons. He was an under-recruited three-star prospect from Virginia who garnered interest from the likes of Alabama, Tennessee, and Maryland, but only received offers from Boston College and Penn State.

After a breakout spring game, however, Scott may have a real chance to emerge from the shadows and claim the role as change-of-pace back in relief of Lynch. He’ll be tasked with fending off some talented competitors, but if Saturday was any indication, Scott may be a diamond in the rough.

Scott first caught the attention of the 68,000 Nittany Lion faithful in attendance with a relentless scamper into the end zone reminiscent of former Auburn standout Michael Dyer’s run in the waning minutes of the 2010 BCS National Championship game, moving the ball across midfield and ultimately setting up the Tigers for the deciding field goal.

Check out the runs below.

The 5-foot-11, 201-pound Scott displayed phenomenal balance after refusing to be taken down in the backfield. He flashed a sharp sense of awareness in recognizing where he was on the field of play after evading the would-be tackle for a loss, and a quick burst to regain his momentum and storm his way into the endzone for six. Scott finished his breakout afternoon with nine carries for 77 yards and a score, despite doing so in a losing effort playing for the White team. His commendable day caught the attention of James Franklin, who took note of the young tailback’s day.

“I know today Nick Scott made a couple of big runs and that’s a positive,” Franklin said. “I am really happy to see that.”

His remarkable performance raises the question: What will Scott’s role be in 2015? His Blue-White showing undoubtedly puts him ahead of the competition prior to summer camp — at least for now. However, one performance does not equal a solidified role. Scott will have to back his impressive showing up in the summer with consistency and an aggressive mentality, because nothing will be guaranteed. He could either grab hold of the reigns, using his spring game performance to springboard himself into an increased workload in 2015, or wind up like another former Blue-White star that never made much of an impact once the regular season rolled around.

cole chiappialle

Former Penn State running back Cole Chiappialle was once in Scott’s shoes. He entered the 2014 spring game as an undersized, sparingly-used former walk on with something to prove. He benefited heavily from James Franklin’s decision to withhold Zwinak from the game, and only lightly implement Belton and Lynch into the day’s gameplan. The door of opportunity swung itself wide open, and Chiappialle bolted right through. Similar to Scott, Chiappialle turned nine carries into gold, rushing for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Despite a relatively loaded backfield, it seemed as though Chiappialle could potentially carve out a significant role for himself by catapulting off his tremendous spring game performance.

Unfortunately, that notion would not ring true.

Chiappialle — despite his admirable downhill running traits — could not fend off his fellow tailbacks, and remained buried on the depth chart once August arrived. By season’s end, the feisty tailback amassed only 68 yards off 22 carries — with the bulk of his production coming in Penn State’s early season blowout of UMass and Week 10 dismantling of Temple.

Chiappialle knew that his playing future wouldn’t be in Happy Valley, especially with the influx of talent arriving on campus at the running back position in the 2015 recruiting class, not to mention redshirts from the previous year’s class — a talented group that included Scott. He decided it was in his best interests to transfer, and so he did. Division II Shippensburg University — former stomping grounds of NFL players Brent Grimes and John Kuhn — became his new home, leaving Nittany Lion fans with the memory of his one shining moment last spring.

Obviously, Scott’s hand is far different than the one Chiappialle was dealt. The latter was essentially entrenched behind Lynch, Belton, and Zwinak, and needed to transcend his fellow running mates in summer camp in order to supplant himself into the rotation — not an impossible task, but an onerous one nonetheless. Scott holds a much different set of cards. Rather than attempt to supersede three key players, Scott instead must fend off a pair of talented redshirt freshmen — Mark Allen and Johnathan Thomas — along with a physical behemoth in senior Brandon Johnson and two four-star standouts from within the state. Coach Franklin made note of the stable of capable backs that his team has.

“I think overall, Mark Allen had a really strong spring. We did have Johnathan Thomas, a guy we are really excited about, and someone I am hoping will be ready to go by camp,” Franklin said. “We got some guys coming in as well that I think will be able to compete and create some competitive environments in practice, with Saquon [Barkley] and Andre [Robinson]. We’re excited about those guys too.”

Image: Chris Knight/Special To The Morning Call
Image: Chris Knight/Special To The Morning Call

The competition for the No. 2 role will be intense, and won’t be a battle that’s easily won. Out of this lengthy list of potential suitors, it will be incoming true freshman Saquon Barkley that could pose the greatest threat to Scott. Though the aforementioned redshirts and lone senior hold the upper hand on paper due to their experience this spring, Barkley might have more raw talent than all of them. He’s the top running back recruit in the state of Pennsylvania –narrowly edging out fellow signee Andre Robinson, who holds the No. 2 spot on the list — and has an arsenal of moves that might make your head spin. His highlight tape shows off his natural stop-and-start, juke-you-out-of-your-cleats ability. He may not have been on campus this spring, but something tells me he’ll acclimate just fine once he arrives in the summer.

Scott has plenty of obstacles standing in front of him in his quest f0r an increased workload. The road did not end after a stellar Blue-White performance; it only grows longer. Despite this, he still has a great opportunity to seize the no. 2 running back role, but will only do so if he continues to shine after his spring game showing.

Scott could emerge as a diamond in the rough for Franklin and company, or could take the route of Chiappialle as a mere flash in the pan. Only time will tell, but for Scott, the time is now.

About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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