EAST LANSING, Mich. — “I’m back,” LJ Scott told reporters Monday at Michigan State football media day.
Then he said it again. And again. Each time it sounded more like a warning to the rest of the Big Ten than just a casual statement.
“I’m back. I’m back. I’m back, and I’m better.”
The junior running back has treated fans to eye-popping runs since arriving as a consensus 4-star recruit in 2015. He ran for 699 yards as a freshman, then 994 as a sophomore. He already has 17 rushing touchdowns, with two years to try to catch Lorenzo White’s 30-year-old school record of 43 for a career.
And now he might be feeling his best for the first time since high school. When he lowers his shoulder on Saturdays this fall, he shouldn’t feel the same numbness upon getting hit a certain way that he had since his Hubbard (Ohio) High days. Surgery he had on one shoulder immediately after the 2016 season ended and on the other one in January should take care of that.
“He’s been back, I guess you could say,” Michigan State running backs coach Dave Warner said. “We’re not rushing him back to asking him to carry the ball 25 times this Saturday. We’re not there yet, but he’s been 100 percent now for a while. … We’re really trying to take his time with him and ease him in, but we have no concerns right now with his health at all.”
Now Scott joins what he calls a “three-headed monster” with fellow running backs Gerald Holmes and Madre London. Together they rushed for 1,545 yards during the Spartans’ 3-9 campaign in 2016.
Already named to the Doak Walker Award watch list for the nation’s top running back, Scott comes in with the highest outside expectations of his play. He has wowed with hurdling skills that Holmes said he wants to add to his repertoire.
Scott, on the other hand, praised the speed of Holmes and London while declaring himself “probably the slowest out of all three.” And he’s actually been working on emulating one of Holmes’ go-to moves.
“I’ve actually seen in a game, Gerald was running and kind of did one of those Braxton Miller spins,” Scott said. “That was something new to me, so that’s something I want to pick up.”
He also can take some tips on pass protection from Holmes; Warner said he is the best of the three in that area. Scott continues to study film — almost always on his own — to work on improving.
After the frustration of missing spring practice, Scott has come back strong in preseason camp. He tries not to think about the pain of past hits when he lowers his shoulders in practice. If he does, he won’t play as hard as he wants to.
“I’ve been hit,” he said. “I’ll be good. I’ll be ready to go.”