The collision was equal parts violent and indelible, a kind of moment not easily forgotten.
For Stevie Scott, it was a signal that this 6-foot-2, 236-pound freshman running back was ready to run.
It came during one sequence in the middle of last month’s fall camp, when Scott took a handoff, trucked through a defender and kept plowing his way toward a big gain.
“Everybody was like, ‘This guy can play,’” quarterback Peyton Ramsey said.
If there were any lingering questions about his place in the backfield, Scott erased them then and there. Now, after an accelerated climb through the depth chart, Scott is asserting himself as Indiana’s featured back and giving the Hoosiers the rushing presence that they desperately need.
“Stevie stepped up and answered the call,” IU coach Tom Allen said.
His 204 yards and one touchdown in Saturday’s 20-16 win over Virginia helped Indiana secure a hugely important non-conference victory, with Scott providing the gains that kept IU’s offense on track in the second half.
For a spell, it wasn’t clear that Scott would even see that side of the ball for the Hoosiers. The first time Allen watched his film, he believed Scott was a linebacker. But running backs coach Mike Hart, a longtime acquaintance of the Scott family, insisted that he begin his college career with him.
“Luckily,” Hart said. “It worked out.”
Hart was hugely influential in Scott’s decision to flip his commitment from Rutgers to Indiana last December. The IU coach grew up in the same Syracuse, N.Y., neighborhood as Scott’s father, and was well aware of Scott’s rushing exploits during his previous coaching stop at Syracuse University, which is roughly a 10-minute drive away from Scott’s high school, Christian Brothers Academy.
In fact, Hart was at the mid-September game last year when Scott suffered a foot injury that cost him the final few months of his senior season.
“I flew in to see him play,” Hart said. “He had a big touchdown run, then a couple plays later, he went down on defense. ... I’ve known that family for a long time since I was younger. I’ve known about Stevie and Stevie’s known about me. I’d text him to say, ‘Keep your head up. It’ll all work out. I told him I was still gonna recruit him.”
During the recruiting process, Hart and Allen knew they wanted to offer a scholarship to Scott, but weren’t sure they’d have a spot. When one opened in early December, IU brought Scott to Bloomington on an official visit and he flipped his commitment from Rutgers to Indiana two weeks later.
“Me and Coach Hart just kept our relationship,” Scott said. “... I took my visit out here and enjoyed it, enjoyed my teammates, the atmosphere and the academics and things that they offered. I just felt this was the best move for me.”
At that time, Indiana’s plan was to get Scott on campus and figure out where he fit best. Though with IU set to sign three linebackers in its 2018 recruiting class, things were getting crowded on defense.
And with Hart’s insistence, Scott was given the opportunity to start with the ball in his hands.
“He wanted to be a running back,” Christian Brothers Academy coach Casey Brown said. “That was what he wanted in his heart.”
Across his time at Christian Brothers, Scott gradually developed into the powerful, yet patient back that IU enjoys today. He rushed for 2,500 yards and 42 touchdowns combined during his sophomore and junior seasons, recording seven 100-yard games and earning a series of offers, including overtures from hometown Syracuse, Pitt, Minnesota, Boston College and others.
“We knew we needed a big back and obviously Morgan (Ellison’s) a bigger guy, but he’s really the only one,” Allen said. “So we said, ‘Hey, let’s start him at running back and let’s just see how he does.’ Obviously, as it all played out, that’s where he’s going to stay. But it wasn’t settled. (We originally thought) if we get into a situation and he ends up being the guy that’s going to help us at linebacker then we’ll move him to linebacker if we need to. But you just don’t ever know how things are going to play out sometimes.”
Much to Allen’s approval, Scott brought a linebacker’s mentality to the backfield early in fall camp. He’s not afraid of contact, and through two games he has shown a willingness to play through hits and fall forward for additional yards.
Of Scott’s 31 carries against Virginia, only one went for negative yardage.
“Playing defense in my high school career, I always liked to hit,” Scott said. “I like the contact because you’ve got to be aggressive with football. This is an aggressive game. You can’t come in weak-minded, either. You just got to be strong and aggressive.”
And just as impressive, Scott didn’t fumble once in the wet and messy conditions Saturday night.
“Back at home, my dad always told me I seemed to play better when it was raining outside because I have to protect the ball even more,” Scott said. “I feel like actually the rain helped me protect the ball because I knew I couldn’t drop that ball.”
During Sunday’s coaches meeting, Allen used Scott as an example of the recruiting philosophy he hopes to follow in the years to come.
Find big, strong guys with versatility, Allen told his assistants. It’s a tough conference, which demands tough players.
That includes those such as Scott, who has found a home in IU’s backfield.
“We saw that he had talent,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “We saw that on film early, and when he got into training camp, yes, we saw the talent.”