Mixed Feelings For Austin Scott

Penn State's junior tailback is thrilled with the team's success so far this season. He just wishes he could play a bigger role in the offense than the one afforded the second-teamer at his position.

The football gods may be smiling on Penn State this season, as the Nittany Lions have bounced back from consecutive losing campaigns to start 7-1, hold first place in the Big Ten and earn a spot in the top 10 of the BCS standings. But fate has not been nearly so kind to PSU running back Austin Scott, the former prep superstar whose action has been limited due to injury, the emergence of a well-rounded starter and the program's move toward a spread offense.

“I'm having fun, as a team, because we're winning and people are seeing how good we are,” Scott said Tuesday morning. “But as an individual, it's a little harder, because I'm not contributing and being a part as much as I'd like to.”

Asked if he felt he had a future at Penn State, the third-year junior said, “I don't know, it's hard to say.”

Scott, who has a redshirt available, said he might take it next year to get off the same eligibility timeline as current starter Tony Hunt. When a reporter asked if he might consider “other options,” presumably transferring, Scott replied, “I don't know. I'll talk to the coaches, see what they're thinking.”

So how did this situation get to this point, where a back who rushed for a record 3,853 yards as a senior at Parkland High near Allentown, Pa., is on the verge of being left behind?

Well, Scott didn't do himself any favors early in his career, when his work ethic on the field and in the classroom was privately called into question by the coaching staff. But he seemed well on his way to maturing in both areas last winter when, after dropping more than 10 pounds and boosting his GPA, he broke his left ankle just before spring ball.

In any other season, that might not have been a big deal for a player who already had 155 career carries. But this year was different, as offensive coordinator Galen Hall and company implemented the spread. They were also looking for ways to get as much as possible out of a fleet of exciting young wideouts, led by early enrollees Derrick Williams and Justin King.

“It hurt me that I missed out on spring ball and game-like scenarios,” Scott said. “If I had had more carries, I would have had more time to learn the offense better and learn how the offensive line flows, get the timing down and be more acclimated.”

Scott returned to action in the preseason, but, according to him, only at about 85 percent. Hunt, meanwhile, was healthy all along, and proved to be the perfect back for the spread. He can bowl over would-be tacklers, is an outstanding receiver for the position and excels at protecting quarterback Michael Robinson. The Lions have given up nine sacks all season, and part of that is because Hunt serves as the final barrier to the QB.

Heading into this weekend's homecoming matchup with Purdue, Hunt is pounding out 6.4 yards per carry and ranks fourth on the team in receptions with 11 for 82 yards. He has 106 carries on the year, Robinson 98 and the young receivers have combined for 33, for a total of 237.

As a whole, the team has 314 totes on the season, which means there just aren't many opportunities for a second-team tailback. Through eight games, Scott has 38 carries and three catches.

So when Scott asks the coaching staff what he must do better to play, they are typically at a loss. After several games this season, head coach Joe Paterno has lamented the fact that he did not use the junior more.

“They always say I'm doing everything right, my blocking and everything is fine, they are trying to get me in,” Scott said. “They just kind of tell me the same thing. But I'm not getting that many carries.”

In last week's 63-10 blowout at Illinois, Scott saw his most extensive action of the season, carrying a team-high 14 times for 57 yards. After his first two series, he said he felt “totally comfortable” for the first time in a long time.

“Once I got calm, I felt like I was ready to run and I was able to read a little better,” he reported. “That's been something that's been hard because of my playing time.”

Spending so much time on the sideline, Scott admits he is often hit with pangs of self-doubt. “I do sometimes get down on myself,” he said. But then he'll reflect back on his spectacular senior season in high school and realize, “I still have the ability … I just haven't been able to show it yet.”

Will he ever get that chance in Happy Valley? There is no way to be certain of that, of course. But Scott has not given up hope yet.

“I just try to keep my eye on the prize, never stop fighting and trying to get better,” he said. “Never stop trying to show in practice that I can perform out on the field.”


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