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Positive energy buoyed Vernon Scott's breakthrough

Perseverance paid off for Packers’ rookie seventh-round pick at TCU

S Vernon Scott
S Vernon Scott

GREEN BAY – Paul Gonzales has the image committed to memory of an eager Vernon Scott closing on the ball in the fourth quarter of TCU's appearance in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl.

A true junior at the time, Scott spent most of his college career patrolling the Horned Frogs' special-teams units. He played practically every position in TCU's secondary but didn't claim a starting spot until late that year.

Gonzales, TCU's safeties coach who recruited Scott out of nearby Mansfield Summit High School in Texas, knew his 6-foot-2, 206-pound safety had game-changing ability and worked tirelessly for years to pull it out of him.

Take a look at Packers S Vernon Scott during his college career.

Well, here was Scott's moment with the game tied at 7 and a little less than six minutes remaining.

Peeking over the shoulder of crossing Cal receiver Moe Wayes, Scott extended his arms, grabbed the interception and collided with fellow Horned Frog safety Ridwan Issahak. Falling to the ground, Scott maintained possession of the ball and secured his first career INT.

It was an important play in TCU's eventual 10-7 overtime triumph, but it was what happened after the pick that provides a perfect snapshot of Vernon Scott, the player and the person.

"Vernon proceeded to get up and run about 50 yards the other direction celebrating his pick," said Gonzales, laughing. "I remember on the sidelines telling him, 'Hey man, act like you've been there before.' He's like, 'I'm sorry, Coach. I'm just so happy I caught my first pick.'"

Scott, who was drafted by the Packers in the seventh round of last month's NFL Draft, was the heart and soul of the Horned Frogs' locker room during his four years in Fort Worth.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Scott didn't fully commit to playing football at the next level until his last year at Summit. Scott vaulted onto TCU's radar after he "blew up" its prospect camp the summer before that senior year, running a 4.4 in the 40 with a 35-inch vertical.

Gonzales loved his size, speed and energy. With Summit only a half hour from TCU's campus, it was a no-brainer to extend Scott an offer.

Despite being a raw defensive prospect, Scott still played right away as a true freshman because of how quickly he took to special teams. Although Scott established himself on the core four units, it wasn't readily apparent what position he fell into on defense.

TCU initially slotted Scott at cornerback – his position in high school – before moving him to safety to give him a better chance at seeing the field. It still didn't happen for Scott, but it also didn't cause him to break from his yes-sir, no-sir mentality.

"He's very upbeat. That's part of what I think our people like about him the most," Gonzales said. "He doesn't allow for excuses. He was never a guy I had to worry about handling his business.

"I think there's something to be said about that, especially in college where there can be a lot of distractions. Vernon was a very motivated and focused kid. Those things I think have helped him get over the hump."

That's why the Cheez-It Bowl was such a critical checkpoint in Scott's career. That summer, he won a starting job for the first time and really saw his production spike after shifting to strong safety with three conference games left on the schedule.

Gonzales sold the move to Scott as a way to use his versatility to improve the defense. He agreed, on a week's notice and while battling an ankle injury. That Saturday, Scott had his best game as a Horned Frog with a team-high five tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup in a 33-31 win over Texas Tech.

Scott did one better the following week at Oklahoma, registering seven tackles and making a statement with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown, the second longest in school history.

"That was one of those plays, you're never going to forget that," Gonzales said. "To make that play on that stage was a big deal. I think that's really what gave him even more assurance he can do this at the next level."

Still, Scott didn't get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis but hoped to make an impression at TCU's March 27 pro day. Unfortunately, that door was forced shut due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Gonzales is convinced Scott would've opened eyes if given the opportunity with his versatility, pure speed and ability to fluidly change direction all on display for NFL GMs and scouts.

Instead, Scott was left to wonder on draft night whether teams had seen enough on film to take a chance on his talent. While he had to wait until the 236th pick in the seventh round, Scott's patience was rewarded with a call from the Packers.

In Green Bay, he'll reunite with close friend and former TCU teammate Ty Summers, who also was drafted by the Packers in the seventh round a year ago.

"Day 3, yeah, I was kind of down on myself for that, but it was really out of my control," Scott said. "I'm just blessed to be a Packer. I'm in the right place, the place I need to be."

Gonzales believes Scott's "best football is still in front him," with all the tools to play anywhere in the secondary. If the Packers want to put him in the box as a hybrid safety, Scott has the grit and toughness to hold his own there, too.

After the draft was over, Gonzales called Scott to congratulate him and say how proud he was of the work he put in over the last four years. But that was then and this is very much now. Once Scott is allowed to report, Gonzales told his pupil that his first stop better be to special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga's office.

"My parting words with him were introduce yourself to the special teams coordinator and make sure you pay as much attention in those meetings as you do in any of our DB meetings," Gonzales said. "Because if you really want to stick in that league, you have to play special teams. The roster sizes are limited. He understands that. I know he's going to make a concerted effort and be a contributor."

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