TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Pulling up to Bryant-Denny Stadium last month, I was hopeful I’d get to chat with a kid I’d known since he was a sophomore in high school. He was nice back then -- a little timid, a lot naive, easily the most talented 16-year-old I’d ever seen play football in person. Now that he was entering this new phase of his life, I was interested to see how he was doing, how he was handling everything that came along with being the presumptive starting running back at the University of Alabama.
But when media day began on Aug. 7 and I scanned the field for No. 9, he was nowhere to be seen. And let me tell you, Bo Scarbrough is not one to go unnoticed. Even back when he was all knees and elbows at Northridge High in Tuscaloosa, your eyes gravitated toward him. He oozed potential; you could see it dripping off him. On the hoof, a five-star, no doubt. Big, powerful, quick.
So I asked one of the school’s public relations people if Scarbrough was planning on coming out, and I got the answer I expected but hoped wouldn’t be true: nope. In fact, he wouldn’t speak to us at all during fall camp. Which is fine. After four seasons covering Nick Saban and Alabama, I understand the thought process. Until he proves himself, he won’t be doing any interviews.
Truth be told, I was a little relieved for him. I’d seen the Bo Scarbrough hype train pick up considerable steam over the last year or so. I’d even played a part in it, writing pieces like this from the spring. In time, I knew his voice would be heard. At the very least the thud of him running over defenders would.
So, Bo, if you’re reading this, I hope you enjoyed the past month of peace and quiet. I hope you enjoy this week and these last few hours before Saturday’s game against USC. Because after that it’s all going to change. You won’t be anonymous anymore. You’re about to become Bo Scarbrough, Heisman Trophy contender.
Really, this all began on a national scale at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. New Year’s Eve against Michigan State. The winner goes to the national championship. Alabama has already sewn up the win and the second-teamers are in. Backup quarterback Cooper Bateman takes the snap out of the pistol formation and hands the ball to Scarbrough, who veers right before spotting a seam. He crashes into the hole, steamrolls a Spartans linebacker, bounces off a corner and finds his way to the sideline. Another DB tries to pull him down, but can’t. He looks like a souped-up Mack truck.
Granted, it’s a modest 9-yard gain, but it gets people’s attention. Twitter bubbles up. ESPN play-by-play man Chris Fowler says of Scarbrough: He has a “monster future” and “figures to take over the Derrick Henry role next year.”
All it took during his redshirt freshman season was 18 carries, 105 yards and one touchdown. By the spring, Scarbrough was a dark-horse Heisman Trophy contender, according to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, which gave him 25-1 odds to win the award.
Some of the hype is due to those 18 carries and the flashes of talent we saw in them. Some of it is the system he’s in. A talented, big running back at Alabama is all but guaranteed success. From Mark Ingram to Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy to T.J. Yeldon to Henry, the line of star running backs under Saban remains unbroken. And when you look like Scarbrough, you’re the one who breaks others, not the one who is broken.
It figures that when game week rolled around and we could see USC on the horizon, the attention on Scarbrough would return. The ESPN College Football Twitter account found a photo of him from the spring game, and, well, Twitter did its thing.
lol this is a running back what do they put in the water at alabama pic.twitter.com/1nEggjxiCD— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 30, 2016
Lol is right.
He has to show he can pass-protect, and he has to prove he understands blocking concepts and can take care of the football. But, man, does he have the raw ingredients to be a great running back. In a helmet and shoulder pads, he looks like a clone of Henry -- same tall frame, same dreadlocks, same physical running style. The only difference is that he might be a little quicker than his predecessor.
Does that mean he’ll be better? Or even as good? Or even half as good? Of course not. Henry set an SEC record for rushing yards in a single season and won the Heisman Trophy. But for better or worse, that’s the bar that’s been set for Scarbrough.
Good luck living up to it. Starting now, the pressure is on.