Snapshot: Leonard Scott

Leonard Scott was a two-sport star in college and his accomplishments in one sport dwarfed the accomplishments in the other. As a member of the Tennessee track-and-field team, Scott ran with the elite of the nation. As a member of the school's football team, Scott struggled and was eventually ignored in the NFL draft.

Obviously, his favorite game is track-and-field. Right?

"No," Scott said quickly. "Actually I'm a football guy running track. I didn't start running track until eighth grade. I've been a football player all my life. I got a football scholarship to Tennessee, not a track scholarship."

Scott is adamant about being a football player, and the rookie free-agent wide receiver with the Steelers believes he has a good chance to make the team.

"I know I can do it," said the 5-foot-10, 191-pounder from Zachary, La. "I've got the ability now. Like I said, I'm not just going out there for the first time and lining up at receiver and catching balls. I know how to catch the ball now. See what I'm saying?"

Scott came to Tennessee as a fast -- very fast -- running back who'd rushed for 1,690 yards in two seasons at Zachary High School but never, he said, was thrown a pass.

Never?

"I got out there in college and that was my first time actually ever being a receiver and ever getting a ball thrown to me," he said. "I had to adjust not only to learning the plays and learning the system, I had to learn how to catch the ball. So that held me back a lot. That's probably the only reason why. Now, I feel so much better coming into camp. I've played receiver. I've caught balls. I know what I'm doing now."

In high school, Scott won his state's indoor 55-meter championship and went on to finish third nationally in the 60-meter dash. So the coaches at Tennessee invoked the names of former Olympic sprinters/All-America wide receivers Willie Gault and Sam Graddy while recruiting Scott to play wide receiver. They even gave him the No. 26 Gault wore at Tennessee before he went on to play for the Chicago Bears.

As a redshirt freshman in 1999, Scott caught only seven passes but led the SEC and ranked 11th nationally with a 27.0-yard kickoff-return average. His 100-yard return against Georgia was the highlight -- until track season, when he was the surprise winner of the 60-meter dash at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Scott was Tennessee's first indoor sprint champ since 1985, when Graddy won it. Gault was the 1983 champ.

"I was as scared as I don't know what," Scott recalled from the Steelers' recent rookie camp. "I never thought in a million years that I would win nationals but I think then it was just God-given ability. As I got older the coaching and learning and just being there -- the experience -- helped me through the next years."

But Scott didn't reach the finals again until his senior season, when he finished second to Tennessee's new sensation, Justin Gatlin. Scott and Gatlin led Tennessee to the NCAA outdoor title in 2001 and the indoor title in 2002. Scott had broken all of Gault's and Graddy's sprint records at Tennessee, but is watching Gatlin, the current World Indoor 60 champ, rearrange the Vols' record book. Will Scott ever return to track-and-field?

"No, not right now," he said. "I'm just trying to focus on football. It's my love. It's my heart. I want to go with this. Maybe down the line."

Scott's experience on the track obviously helped him land with the Steelers, who timed Scott at 4.28 on artificial turf -- not a track -- in the 40-yard dash. It beat the times of top draft picks Troy Polamalu (4.35) and Ike Taylor (4.33) and may have given the Steelers a new anchor for their rookie relay team.

"Troy and Ike ran on track, which is always faster than a grass time," said Steelers director of operations Kevin Colbert. "Leonard's speed is unusual. Troy's and Ike's speed is excellent and Leonard's is unusual. From the timing standpoint, he's the fastest on the team."

But when a track man doesn't produce on the football field -- and Scott caught only 10 passes as a nine-start senior -- they say he can't carry his pads. Can Scott carry his pads?

"He's been behind some pretty good receivers the last couple years," Colbert said. "He played behind [Kelley] Washington and Donte Stallworth and a pretty good underclassman [Tony Brown], so he hasn't had much of an opportunity and that's what's intriguing about him. He also has the potential to return kickoffs."

Scott's best chance to make the Steelers will be as a kickoff returner. After averaging 27 yards as a freshman, Scott would average 21.9 per kickoff return the next three seasons. As a senior, he returned only five kickoffs to finish his career with 77 returns for 1,788 yards (23.2 average).

"I was 130 yards away from breaking the SEC record for kickoff returns," he said. "After my junior year I did not do much returning. They wanted me to focus on starting at receiver."

As a receiver, Scott made a heck of a running back. Noted for his toughness after the catch, Scott was given the ball five times on reverses as a senior and gained 63 yards. He knows the play's a staple with the Steelers.

"I've been watching," he said. "It's funny because my pastor told me to pick a team that best fits you. So I'm thinking, ‘How am I going to pick a team if I'm drafted?' And then I didn't get drafted so it ended up working into my favor because I got a chance to pick the team. I've been watching them and I see [Antwaan] Randle [El] doing all the reverses and stuff and I love it. That, and coach let me know they needed a receiver and kickoff returner."

Jim Wexell
SteelCitySports.com




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