Has Michigan State found the next Le'Veon Bell in L.J. Scott?

Michigan State coaches see the similarities between Spartans sophomore LJ Scott and former MSU great Le'Veon Bell. "Big and strong," O-line coach Mark Staten said. "He reminds me in so many ways, even mannerisms, of L-Bell. It's uncanny. It's strange." Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Poster-sized images of Michigan State's recent running backs line the walls of offensive coordinator Dave Warner's office. It's a shrine to both consistency and variety.

A reliable rushing attack has helped MSU sustain success. But the Spartans haven't required a prototype. Javon Ringer wasn't like Edwin Baker, who wasn't like Le'Veon Bell, who wasn't like Jeremy Langford.

Only now is a link forming between a current Spartans back and one on Warner's wall -- the Le'Veon Link. Whenever MSU coaches see sophomore LJ Scott run the ball, it immediately rings a Bell.

"Big and strong," offensive line coach Mark Staten said of Scott. "He reminds me in so many ways, even mannerisms, of L-Bell.

"It's uncanny. It's strange."

Likening any young player to a college All-American and NFL All-Pro like Bell can summon undue pressure and expectations. But Scott welcomes the association.

Bell's success helped bring Scott to MSU. Bell's friendship and guidance now boost the young back.

"He's somebody to look up to," Scott said, "and follow his footsteps."

Scott appears to be on his way after a solid freshman season, highlighted by a 1-yard touchdown lunge against Iowa. It capped a 22-play, 82-yard, 9-minute drive and secured the Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff spot.

The play has earned Scott a poster-sized image like those of his predecessors, soon to be mounted in MSU's football office. It's also memorialized in GIFs and paintings. One hangs on Scott's door.

But Scott doesn't hang on big moments or comparisons. He has a starting job to win.

Le'Veon 2.0

When former MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi recruited Scott at Hubbard High School in Ohio, just outside Youngstown, he came away with a simple scouting report: Le'Veon 2.0.

"If he looks like him and runs like him," said Narduzzi, now the coach at Pitt, "we have to take this guy."

While Scott and Bell both were powerful backs from Ohio (Bell grew up in the Columbus area), they had one notable difference. Bell, like many eventual MSU stars, arrived with little fanfare. Scott, meanwhile, was the No. 93 overall player in the 2015 class, according to ESPN.

He started as a freshman at Hubbard and opened his sophomore season by scoring six touchdowns on six touches (five carries for 201 yards, plus a punt return). He rushed for 1,614 yards that fall and 1,867 yards as a junior.

MSU was among the first to offer, but Scott's options soon grew to include Ohio State, which normally lands the in-state stars it wants. Alabama's Nick Saban called. Other SEC teams showed interest.

"He had substantial offers from all the big ones," Hubbard head coach Brian Hoffman said.

The Spartans had several advantages. Kurtis Drummond, an MSU safety who played at Hubbard, knew Scott. And Bell gave the Spartans the perfect paradigm. He led the Big Ten in rushing (1,793 yards) and the nation in carries (382) in 2012, before skipping his final season. A second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell earned first-team All-Pro honors in his second year.

Scott met Bell at MSU's spring game. They exchanged numbers.

"One of the big things on our side was Le'Veon," Warner said. "There's a lot of similarities, body-wise and skill set."

Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio thinks both could have been great linebackers.

"You think they're just bruisers," Drummond said. "That's not the case. They're able to make guys miss. They're able to use the stiff-arm. They're able to protect, catch out of the backfield."

Staying grounded

Scott seemed ordained to play college football. His childhood home in Youngstown stood on Pasadena Avenue. When not playing in the street, he and his younger brother, Isiah, now a wide receiver for Youngstown State, walked two blocks to Cardinal Mooney High School, which produced FBS coaches Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, Mark Stoops and Bo Pelini.

But it was a tough neighborhood, and Scott's mother, Lachelle Steele, moved her family to Hubbard when Scott started high school. Although LJ is named for his father, Larry, he did not grow up with him. He bonded with Ron Fox, an assistant coach at Hubbard.

"He comes from hard times," Fox said. "Stuff's not given to him."

Scott didn't get swept up in his recruiting hype, committing to MSU the summer after his junior year. Other schools kept pushing but Scott held firm, even after Narduzzi, his primary recruiter, left for Pitt.

"I always threaten him because I don't want him to screw it up," Fox said. "I say, 'Dude, stay humble, stay healthy, do what they want. There's so much stuff in front of you.'"

His most memorable play could be behind him.

The Stretch Run

It should have been a walk-in.

If Benny McGowan, the pulling guard, isn't bumped slightly off course, he seals Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell from hitting Scott at the 3-yard line. Scott sprints to the pylon, with fullback Trevon Pendleton blocking Ben Niemann. It's an easy touchdown, an important touchdown, but not a remarkable one.

That's not how it happened, of course.

Here's a brief oral history of The Stretch Run.

Scott: I guess I decided to scare everybody and decided to turn it upfield immediately. That wasn't the right time. When I got stood up, I had to fight through that to get back around.

Warner: Typical LJ. Just bowled his way in. And then he extends the ball and you're like, "No, don't do that!"

Dantonio: That whole focus of [MSU's season motto] "Reach Higher" came into play, because he had to reach for it. Everything we had talked about, that was exemplified by that one move.

Warner: You really don't tell a guy to extend the ball like that, unless it's fourth down. But everybody in the world does it. He just had the sense. If he doesn't the lift the ball up, [Melvin Spears'] helmet would have went right through the ball.

Scott: I literally lifted the ball up in time. After that happened, [Spears] blew out [Jordan Lomax's] knee. I don't even know how it happened. It just happened to work.

Fox: I was right on the goal line where he scored. We had [Scott's] seats, me and [Hubbard assistant Ken Bencetic]. He scored right in front of us. It was awesome.

Dantonio: I was so far down the field, I couldn't see. I didn't know if he was in or he wasn't until we saw the [official's] hands go up.

Hoffman: Everybody else in the house was asleep. I have young kids. I remember making a little bit of noise, jumping off the couch when he scored that touchdown and waking up one of my kids.

Narduzzi: Who didn't see that play?

Separation time

Scott led MSU in carries (146), rushing yards (699) and rushing touchdowns (11) as a freshman. But he started only once and was part of a three-man rotation. The Spartans finished 93rd nationally in rushing, their lowest under Dantonio.

Warner doesn't want another rotation this season. His message to the contenders: Go get it.

"Somebody," Scott said, "will be the top dog."

Scott hopes to be that somebody. He has to distance himself from Gerald Holmes and others. He must become more consistent in pass protection.

There's a path, forged by Bell. After backing up Baker as a freshman, Bell made his move in 2011, scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Then he took off as a junior.

"Le'Veon always tells me, 'Keep working and be better than the next man,'" Scott said. "If I do that, I'll be successful."