There are only two ways to react to a challenge. You can either accept it or you can run away from it.
Having already transferred once in his college football career and with time becoming an increasingly more precious commodity, Derrell Scott really didn’t have much choice other than to take coach Scottie Montgomery’s words to heart last winter when he asked what it would take to get into a game for the Pirates.
“I wanted to talk to the coach about playing and what I could do to help the team in any way I could and he challenged me,” the junior running back said. “He gave me some things he wanted me to work on. He wanted me to work on my speed, my flexibility, be more aggressive with the ball, be more physical and really just work on my overall game.
“I didn’t get mad, I didn’t take it personal. I just went and worked every day I could and just tried to make myself better.”
Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the fruits of Scott’s labor began to take root.
The 5-foot-11, 207-pound junior provided one of the highlights of East Carolina’s annual Purple-Gold spring game by breaking off an impressive 27-yard touchdown run on his way to gaining 51 yards on just five carries. His rushing total would have been even greater had he not suffered what Montgomery termed “a bad laceration to his hand” and sat out the second half.
It was a performance that provided a glimpse of the talent that made him one of the most sought-after prospects in North Carolina coming out of high school.
More importantly, it gave the Pirates reason to hope that Scott could inject some badly needed energy into a stagnant ground game that ranked 10th in the 12-team American Athletic Conference a year ago.
“You have to hear everybody say this and say that, but I challenged him and God blessed him today,” Montgomery said of Scott’s effort Saturday. “I thought that was a great performance by him all around. There were some blitz pickups that we saw, there were some great runs that we saw as well.”
Redshirt freshman Hussein Howe also ran the ball well, gaining 92 yards on 10 tries. But when it came to handing out praise, Scott was at the top of Montgomery’s list.
“Man, that jump cut was impressive,” the ECU coach said of the move that helped spring Scott on his touchdown run, adding later that “I really think [number] 24 did a great job today.”
Scott seemed destined for stardom after gaining more than 6,000 yards and leading Havelock to three North Carolina state championships. But after seeing action in just two games as a true freshman at Tennessee in 2014, he decided to leave the Volunteers and return closer to home.
He sat out the 2015 season under NCAA transfer rules, then saw Ruffin McNeill — the coach that brought him to ECU — fired and replaced by Montgomery.
Instead of being inserted into the lineup as the Pirates’ primary ball carrier as he and a lot of others expected, Scott spent all of 2016 on the sideline watching converted quarterback James Summers lead the team in rushing with 869 yards.
It was a frustrating situation Scott handled as best he could.
That doesn’t mean he was happy about it.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me,” Scott said. “But everything in life happens for a reason. Sometimes you just have to look at it as a learning experience and try to find the good out of every situation.
“I got to learn behind other great players like James and Zay [Jones]. I got to watch them and see how they approach practice and games. I just gained a lot of knowledge from those guys.”
That knowledge was enhanced by the fire Montgomery helped ignite under him and the work he put in on his own and with others, including strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors and a professional yoga instructor.
Saturday’s spring performance was another step in the process.
“I definitely feel like I got a lot better from where I was before,” he said.
As encouraged as he is, Scott knows his career won’t officially be back on track until he steps onto the field and starts making tacklers miss in an actual game this fall.
“I expect myself to perform at a high level,” he said. “I put a lot of expectations on myself to come out here and play.”