By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Realizing his own potential, there came a time when Jeff Scott decided he would not be voted off the island.
Avoiding that fate required change for the Ole Miss running back, and he developed a plan. Jeff Scott would be a survivor.
Following the 2011 season many challenges awaited new Rebels coach Hugh Freeze, discipline among them and Scott among the undisciplined.
In fact, when Freeze was hired in December Scott’s most recent body of work included a two-game suspension levied by former coach Houston Nutt for unspecified rules violations. Quarterback Randall Mackey and wide receiver Korvic Neat were also suspended then.
Scott was the Rebels’ leading rusher at the time.
“I’ve said many times when I first got here I didn’t think there was any way he would make it with me. Today he’s one of my favorite kids to coach.
I’m very, very proud of the change in his life, in his academics, that he’s made,” Freeze said.
The window of time eventually closes for every college athlete. Scott saw his shrinking and responded with a sense of urgency.
“It hit me hard. This is it for me, and I want to go out on top,” said Scott, a senior from Miami. “I wanted to be a great player overall. I wanted people to like me for what I do off the field … character-wise.”
Others have noticed the change.
“Everybody keeps talking about Jeff off the field,” strength coach Paul Jackson said. “I think he’s living right. He’s probably sleeping more. He dedicated himself in the weight room. Everybody knows he’s fast. God gave him that. He’s worked on those other things to become a more complete player.”
Scott, 5-foot-7 and 162 pounds, credits Jackson for helping him gain strength and better handle the contact that SEC running backs must face.
A great example of Scott’s new way of thinking was his 75-yard touchdown run at Vanderbilt. In a situation where the Rebels needed only a field goal to tie and force overtime, Scott could have run out of bounds. Instead, he cut back inside, found a lane and scored.
With his new survivor mentality Scott delivered the winning points in the Rebels’ 39-35 opening night victory on ESPN. It was a game many dubbed an instant classic.
“Last year the first thing he was going for was the sideline. He was going to jump out of bounds,” quarterback Bo Wallace said. “This year you see his toughness. You see him want to make big plays for you.”
Before the season started Scott – after rushing for 846 yards and six TDs last year – set an individual goal of rushing for 1,000 yards.
After his career-high 164-yard performance at Texas, he’s averaging 110 yards a game, sixth in the SEC. Those numbers are tricky, however, because he played very little against Southeast Missouri, carrying just four times for 28 yards.
Against BCS-level opponents Vanderbilt and Texas, Scott averages 151 yards.
“Coach Freeze has been tough on us. I had to get my priorities right,” he said.
Scott currently ranks eighth on the school’s career rushing list with 2,134 yards. The top spot on the list – currently held by Deuce McAllister with 3,060 yards – is within reach. Getting there within the regular season would require averaging roughly 103 yards over the final nine games.
Scott is currently fourth on the all-purpose yardage list at 3,421.
“Jeff’s our guy, and I think that’s a reflection of the way he’s living,” Freeze said. “He trained hard in the summer, lived right and did things the right way. I think that’s a direct correlation.”