EAST LANSING, Mich. — LJ Scott had a gift waiting for him when he walked into Michigan State’s running backs room on Monday: a football sitting right in front of his seat.
The junior running back had lost his third fumble of the season on Saturday against Notre Dame, so a message apparently needed to be sent. Co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner told him every time he entered the building this week, he would have to carry it around from room to room as passing teammates tried to tug on it or punch it loose.
The plan started off well, but then Scott forgot to bring the ball to his meeting on Tuesday. That will only make his teammates harass him more when he does bring it.
“Tomorrow, we’ll get it,” senior running back Gerald Holmes said with a smirk on Tuesday.
Turnovers never have been this much of an issue for Scott. In his first two seasons, he had 5 fumbles. Three games into his junior year, that number has risen to 8 career fumbles.
But he’s chosen not to dwell on it unless asked to do so — which he was. He recounted the fumble against the Irish when he got stripped just short of the goal line on a run that could’ve made Michigan State’s deficit 21-14.
“It’s definitely not an issue for me,” Scott said. “The guy just made a great play. He was able to get his hand on the ball, and it came out.”
Coach Mark Dantonio agreed that Scott had the ball covered and that the fumble had more to do with Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford’s great play. Still, the message remains the same. You’ve got to hold onto the football.
Those around Scott have taken pages from some Hollywood scripts to help him with his struggles with ball security. A teammate told him about the “Friday Night Lights” scene where an abusive father duct taped the ball to his son’s hands. He heard about “The Program,” where a character fumbled during practice and had to lug a ball around with him at all times. He’s not thrilled to have to go to similar lengths.
“It’s funny,” Scott said, “but then again it’s actually embarrassing because I should not be in this position at all. It is what it is. It’s just about how I bounce back and keep a positive mindset.”
On Saturday, he’ll face an Iowa team against which he recorded one of his finest moments. In the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game, he capped off a game-winning, 22-play, 82-yard drive by fighting through multiple tacklers and stretching as far as he could to put the ball over the goal line.
Scott is determined not to let the 2017 season spiral out of control like a year ago for the Spartans. For inspiration, he looks to Michigan State’s 2013 team —those Spartans won 10 straight games, including a Rose Bowl victory — after falling to Notre Dame.
Smiling and speaking openly about his errors, Scott didn’t look like someone who needs much vocal support to play with confidence. But he continues to get it from his teammates.
“I just told him that everybody makes mistakes,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “I’ve made a lot this year already. It happens to everyone. Just don’t do it again.”