Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alabama's X-Factor: BJ Scott

"This will be BJ Scott's breakout game!"

It's been a familiar phrase in Alabama fan circles over the past couple of years. It started out honestly enough, genuine anticipation to see a prized recruit flash his brilliance on the national stage. Over time, though, with each passing game failing to produce that breakout performance, it became a running joke, eventually devolving into the sort of meme you post on a message board when somebody asks a stupid question that gets asked all the time. Totally irrelevant, meaningless unless you're in on the reference. But it's about to become relevant again. Soon.

Unless you're an Alabama fan or a diehard recruitnik, you probably have no idea what a "BJ Scott" is. You wouldn't get the joke. But if the Crimson Tide is going to realize its hopes of repeating as SEC champions, let alone national champions, much depends on BJ Scott breaking out as a star in Bama's secondary. I have a hunch he'll do just that. So consider this your heads-up. You're about to find out who this guy is, where he's been, how he ended up where he is right now, and what exactly that means for Alabama in 2010.

BJ's journey to this point began on July 30th, 2007 when he verbally committed to play at Alabama. It was a significant moment in Nick Saban's first year in Tuscaloosa and perhaps the tipping point for the now legendary 2008 Alabama recruiting class. Scott was the epitome of the "athlete" at Vigor (Mobile, AL), playing at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back, and kick/punt return. His freakish athleticism ultimately garnered a Five Star ranking from Rivals.com (#28 overall) and scholarship offers from Florida, Miami (FL), Oklahoma, Florida State, and USC, among others, in addition to in-state offers from Bama and Auburn.

Scott was the first elite, truly national recruit that committed to play for Saban at Alabama, and from that point forward, Scott became almost an unofficial recruiting coordinator for Saban's first full recruiting class at Bama. He was so well known as a recruiter that Oklahoma actually canceled an official visit on him at the very last minute out of fear of his influence. His efforts were perhaps most evident in his home region of south Alabama, which produced future All-SEC players Julio Jones and Mark Barron in that same class.

Needless to say, he was a pretty popular guy among Alabama fans, and anticipation was high to finally see him contribute on the field. And that's where things went sideways.

It was widely acknowledged that BJ was perhaps best suited to play on the defensive side of the ball in college, but as is the case with most highly regarded "athletes" coming out of high school, he was given his choice of what position he wanted to begin his career at. BJ chose to start out at wide receiver, with visions of forming a deadly 1-2 combo with his pal Julio dancing in his head, no doubt. And I can see how it made logical sense to a guy trying to get on the field as quickly as possible. At the time, Bama had a bevy of defensive backs and the receiving corps was largely undistinguished. It must have seemed like a prime spot for a super recruit to make an instant impact. And I guess it really was...for Julio.

But it didn't work out for BJ. Not at all. Part of it may have been nagging injuries, but it was also a case of not being able to pick up on the little things a wide receiver needs to do to be successful in college, where you can't just out-athletic people. And ultimately, a year was wasted. The 2008 season came and went with barely a peep from one of 2008's biggest recruits.

It became apparent to BJ and those around him that a change was in order if he was going to realize his potential in college. So BJ made the switch to cornerback in the spring of 2009, and instantly, it was clear his combination of speed, quick hips, and physicality made him a natural CB in Saban's defensive scheme. All that he was missing was the knowledge of scheme of technique. But that would take time to learn, especially to the extent Saban demands of any player he puts on the field. And while he was learning the basics, guys like Kareem Jackson (1st round draft pick), Javier Arenas (All-American, 2nd round pick), and Marquis Johnson (also a NFL draft pick) were only growing more advanced in their skills. As the 2009 season drew near, it was clear BJ had no chance of beating out any of them.

So for the second year in a row, BJ was faced with a career-shaping decision: would he battle on, contributing on special teams in hopes of eventually cracking the corner rotation but potentially wasting another year of eligibility, or would he take a rare, non-injury-related sophomore redshirt year? In what must have been a difficult, humbling decision for a former high school megastar, BJ elected for the non-traditional redshirt with his eyes firmly set towards the future. And just like that...he was off the college football grid. He may as well have disappeared off the face of the Earth. BJ watched from the sidelines as his Class of 08 teammates (Julio, Barron, Mark Ingram, Marcell Dareus, et al) led the Crimson Tide to its 13th national championship. To his credit, BJ isn't much for pouting. He may have been the biggest cheerleader on the sidelines during the title run. All the while, he worked hard away from the public eye, waiting for his opportunity.

Well, the waiting is over. BJ entered the spring of 2010 with his first real opportunity to make his mark in the Bama secondary, and by all accounts, he didn't waste it. He quickly asserted himself as the second corner alongside Dre Kirkpatrick, a Five Star super recruit in his own right, and developed a reputation for physical, pressing man coverage. Insider reports tout BJ as the only Bama corner who has been able to consistently beat Julio Jones in one-on-one drills. This includes all those NFL draft picks BJ waited behind. Granted, there's a big difference between doing it in practice and doing it in a game, but that's about as glowing an endorsement of a DB as I can think of.

Today, by all accounts, the coaching staff has total confidence in BJ to do his job. That confidence in BJ, as well as in Kirkpatrick, will allow Saban and Kirby Smart to leave them on an island and attack with the front 7 without fear. Last year, that was a recipe for one of the most dominant defenses in the nation. I won't be so bold as to say this year's defense will be as good as 09 or anything, but BJ's emergence makes it a much more likely possibility. My opinion on the secondary has swung from "It could be the weak link that ruins the defense" to "It will be fine unless somebody gets hurt." And that's strictly as a result of BJ's performance this past spring. He's ready.

Two years ago, BJ probably imagined he'd be on the verge of wrapping up his college career right now, preparing for a Junior season where he would cement his stock as one of the top wide receivers in the Draft. Instead he finds his career only just now beginning, really. After two years in obscurity, expect this one-time superstar to make his presence known early.


Kevin said...

I enjoyed reading this and we will enjoy matching AJ Green and Orson Charles up with this kid in the SEC Championship game.

Unknown said...

Go BJ! During his career at Bama he has been patient and humble...now its time to BREAK LOOSE!!!!!!!! He will be a beast on the field this year no doubt!!!! He will definitely be a first round draft pick!!!! Mark MY WORDS!!! HE IS THE BEST AND WILL ALWAYS BE!!!!

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