Full speed ahead: Following injury, SU’s Scott returns to form in senior season

Shenandoah University senior wide receiver Leonard Scott turns the ball up field after hauling in a catch during a game against Gallaudet on Sept. 2 in Winchester. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

WINCHESTER – In Leonard Scott’s mind, at least initially, it was the worst-case scenario.

During Shenandoah University’s second game of the 2016 season against Ferrum, the Hornets’ wide receiver was racing downfield on a go route along the far sideline. As Scott hauled in a pass from quarterback Hayden Bauserman, he recalled on Wednesday afternoon, he attempted to shield the Ferrum defensive back with his body. The defender grabbed hold of Scott and turned him – and Scott’s knee “shifted inward.”

“I really didn’t feel any popping or anything initially,” Scott recalled, “but then when I tried to stand up it was just like collapsing. I couldn’t stand on it by myself.”

Lying on the turf at Shentel Stadium, Scott was devastated. Thoughts of a serious injury abruptly halting his junior season invaded his mind.

He would find out later that he had avoided any major ligament damage, that the injury wasn’t as bad as he had originally feared. Still, his knee would require surgery to clean up some damage to the cartilage, and conversations began that suggested Scott take a medical redshirt to regain an extra year of eligibility.

Leonard Scott

Scott, sensing that Shenandoah could contend for an Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship, didn’t want to experience any potential title run from the sideline.

“Me seeing the progress of the team, I’m like, ‘Nah, I wanna be a part of that,'” he said.

Scott underwent the surgery – his first of any kind – a couple weeks after suffering the injury, but the procedure did little to ease his apprehension. He remembers thinking after the surgery that he was going to have to “start all over” on the football field.

“Basically the doctor was telling me after the surgery I’m gonna have to rebuild my whole leg,” Scott said. “And my whole game is my speed, my speed and my quickness. I was like, ‘I don’t wanna start all over. What am I gonna do?’ It was just scary, like will I be the same player when I get back?”

Scott returned to the field in Week 8, finishing his junior year with 21 receptions for 372 yards and three touchdowns in six games, but that uncertainty followed him for the rest of the 2016 season. No matter how hard he tried, he said, he couldn’t shake the fear of re-injury.

“I don’t think the adjustment period was physical-based,” offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin said. “I think it was mental and emotional, just having confidence that my knee is as strong as it was before the injury and just letting loose and just playing, as opposed to ‘I wanna make sure to protect my knee’ type of approach. It probably hampered him emotionally and mentally through the entire season after his return.

“This past spring, I started seeing the old Leonard,” Hodgin continued. “The guy that was just focused on what his job was and not dividing his focus with ‘I know what my job is and this is what I gotta do,’ and ‘I hope my knee holds up.'”

Scott, who hails from Deerfield Beach, Florida, is back to form as a senior in 2017. In fact, the four-year starter is on pace for his best season since arriving at Shenandoah in 2014.

Through the Hornets’ first four games this season, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound speedster has caught 18 passes for 322 yards and five touchdowns, putting him in line to shatter his output from his sophomore season in 2015, when he caught 34 passes for 411 yards and six touchdowns over 10 games.

“I was definitely expecting to have a great season last year, and me missing half the season, it definitely drives me now because I feel like I have a lot more to make up for,” said Scott, who ranks second on Shenandoah’s all-time list in career receiving touchdowns (15) and is fourth in receiving yards (1,248) and sixth in receptions (85) entering Saturday’s ODAC tilt against Emory & Henry.

“I have a lot more to make up for and I feel l really have to make a statement this year.”

Scott has already had two games in which he’s snagged seven receptions for at least 100 yards this fall. That includes a 162-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Hornets’ 51-38 win at Randolph-Macon College on Sept. 28, during which he set a new school record for touchdown catches in a game.

He’s tied for second in the ODAC – along with teammate and fellow senior Michael Ashwell – in touchdown receptions this season, and he trails Ashwell by 41 receiving yards for the team lead despite having fewer than half as many catches.

Scott, Shenandoah’s deep threat, is averaging 17.9 yards per catch and trails only Guilford’s Tyriek Russell (20.3) among qualified ODAC receivers in that category.

“I think you add a whole new element of speed that without him you kind of lose,” Bauserman said. “We have a lot of different receivers that can do a lot of different things. Jalen Hudson’s really shifty. Mike Ashwell’s really smart, got great hands, tough. Casey Stewart’s a big guy. But then you throw in Leonard, he’s just a speed demon. He’s a track runner that’s really good at football too, and is able to catch balls.

“I think he’s also a very smart guy and he runs really good routes. I think that’s one thing that he’s gotten a lot better at since I’ve been here, is his route running and ability to make plays. But I think the one thing that he’s always had that he’ll continue to have is speed.”

At this point, with concerns about his knee behind him, with a record-setting quarterback throwing him the ball in an offense that continues to pile up eye-popping numbers, not much may be able to slow Scott down as he races toward the finish line of his college career.

“I definitely feel myself getting smarter. I definitely feel myself getting better. I definitely feel that I can continue having games like I had last week,” Scott said. “I feel like the only thing that can hinder that is myself. As long I stay focused I can keep being productive.”