Sunday Extra: Indiana's Stevie Scott is a star still on this rise
The first thing you notice is the eye contact. Stevie Scott, Indiana's sensational sophomore running back, is standing tall in the warm August sun, with his shoulders back and beads of sweat dripping down his face after an intense morning practice. He wiped off the sweat, and stared back politely at his questioner.
It was short and sweet. "Lots of people talk about how great Stevie Scott can be. Does Stevie Scott know how good Stevie Scott can be?''
There was no hesitation in his voice. None. Not even a split second.
"Oh, yes. Yes sir. I sure do,'' Scott said. "I know it, and I get told that every day too by my dad, and by (Indiana running backs) Coach (Mike) Hart. I know that I can be a better player just by working on the little things. That’s the difference between being a good player and being a great player. Those little things like ball security, and making a guy miss. Those things matter."
They matter a lot to Scott. The Syracuse, N.Y., native had a tremendous freshman year. He got a chance early because starter Morgan Ellison was suspended and Cole Gest had torn his ACL. He had 70 yards in the season opener against Florida International, but then really burst on the national scene with a 204-yard day against Virginia in Week 2.
There was no looking back then. He was the guy. And especially with Indiana's passing game struggling, he was, without question, the key component in IU's offense. He finished with 1,137 yards, 10 touchdowns and six 100-yard games, all school records for a true freshman.
But to him, that's nothing more than just a starting-off point. It was a good freshman year. But he wants even more out of this year and the next ... and then whatever comes after that. Yes, he's a star now. But he wants to keep getting better.
That takes work. And he knows it.
Well, he knows it now.
Finding his way from New York to Indiana
Stevie Scott III is a Syracuse native, the son of Stevie Scott Jr. and Aisha Smith. He had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in high school at Christian Brothers Academy, including a 1,400-yard season as a junior.
But his senior year was cut short with a foot injury in his third game, and it was a frustrating way to end his high school career.
"We brought him to the emergency room doctor in Elmira (N.Y.), and the doctor came back and said it's broken," his mother, Aisha Smith, told Syracuse.com last year. "He was devastated. I didn't cry, because I didn't want him to see me cry. But the look on his face, he just knew."
Scott had dozens of college offers, including Syracuse, but he really wanted to play somewhere else besides his hometown. He committed to Rutgers, but just a few days before National Signing Day in February 2018, he backed off because he "wasn't feeling it anymore.''
Enter Mike Hart, Indiana's running backs coach and a former Syracuse native himself. Hart's a hometown hero because he went on to have a great career at Michigan — he's still the Wolverines' all-time leading rusher — and he played a handful of years in the NFL.
Hart and Scott's father are friends, and Hart has become one of the key recruiters on Tom Allen's staff. He pushed hard with Stevie, and a few days later he signed with Indiana.
Dealing with the foot injury was hard, but he had plenty of help.
“My dad, he’s been my role model since I was like 12. I’m blessed to have him,'' Scott said. "He helped me stay positive through all of that. My dad’s been through this lifestyle before, so he helped me with getting through my injuries.''
Arriving late to IU, but surprising people right away
Scott didn't make it to Bloomington until June, after he had graduated from high school, and he was among the last of IU's recruiting class to arrive.
Hart knew he had talent, but he also figured it would take time for Scott to adjust to the college game.
He was wrong, and doesn't mind admitting that.
“Stevie didn’t do anything in the weight room in high school. That was his problem. The first time he ever lifted was probably when he got here,'' Hart said with a sarcastic smirk and a smile. "He was one of the last guys to get here, probably like late June after he graduated. So no, I didn't really expect all of that from him right away.
"I knew we'd see that kind of production at some point, but not that fast.''
Scott became the workhorse for Indiana, getting at least 18 carries in nine of its 12 games. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry on the season. Several people were surprised that he was so productive all season.
Scott wasn't one of them.
“No, I wasn’t really surprised, because I know what kind of player and I and what kind of family I come from,'' Scott said. "Football is something that we do. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my coaching staff and my O-Line, of course. Big shoutout to them. But it definitely was a great year.''
All those numbers don't mean much to him.
“I’m not really a numbers guy. I’m more of a team player,'' Scott said. "Whoever produces and helps us win, I’m all about that. I like to see everybody do good.’’
Excited for a huge sophomore season
Now that he’s had a full offseason in the weight room with David Ballou, Indiana's director of athletic performance, and athletic performance coach Dr. Matt Rhea, he's closer to 230 pounds now instead of 240, and he feels much better.
“The offseason went really well. Coach Ballou and Dr. Rhea helped me with my speed, and I can definitely see the difference,'' Scott said. "Definitely a little quicker, and I slimmed down a little bit. I was in the 240 range last year, and I like this way better being closer to 230. I’m more cut up, more toned, and I feel a lot better.
"I’m 100 percent, and I’m ready to go. I feel like a whole different player.’’
He's shown that in the first week of practices, hitting holes quickly in drills and making defenders miss in the open field during scrimmages. It's Year 2, and he's ready.
"Indiana was the right place for me, definitely,'' Scott said. "I love it here, and me and Coach Hart, we have a great relationship. We're going to do some really big things this year.''