On a roster with so many players who stay close to their Florida roots, USF running back Darrell Scott would seem an outsider, a transfer who played two seasons at Colorado after being a national star in high school in California.
But Scott has strong local ties, having been born in Tallahassee, lived in St. Petersburg and Tampa growing up and with relatives all over the state. Family is a big part of why he came to USF, and now, four games into his Bulls career — poised for tonight's Big East opener at Pittsburgh — it's also a big part of his success in a new environment.
"It was a major factor," the 6-foot-1, 239-pound junior said of how his family and familiarity with Tampa weighed in his decision to come to USF last year. "(Against Florida A&M two weeks ago), I think I had 30 relatives at the game, and that's the most I've ever had at a game."
How did No. 16 USF (4-0) get Scott to move back across the country from Los Angeles?
Glenn Davis, a former Bulls defensive back who now works as a defensive assistant, is Scott's second cousin once removed — his grandfather was the brother of Scott's great-grandmother — and they knew each other from family gatherings and cookouts in St. Petersburg.
Davis put Scott in touch with USF coaches, helping set up a campus visit and giving him a personal connection to the program. He said it's gratifying to see how Scott has embraced a second chance in Tampa.
"The most rewarding thing for me is to see that he's still humble because he was highly this and highly that," Davis said. "He's one of the guys here. He doesn't say a whole lot, but when he does, the guys listen and respond to what he's saying."
Humility isn't easy given the success Scott had in high school. In his final two years, Scott rushed for 5,629 yards and 78 touchdowns, finishing fourth in rushing yards in California history. He was widely regarded as the No. 1 running back recruit in the country, choosing Colorado over Texas. LSU, a month removed from a national championship, was a distant third.
But Scott never found that success at Colorado, rushing for just 438 yards and one touchdown in two seasons. In researching Scott, USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch got good reports from Colorado coaches, which were reaffirmed during a weekend visit to Tampa.
Those were reinforced in the way Scott went about things during his required year off after transferring, quietly putting in hard work on the scout team.
"You knew there was talent. But what was stopping the talent?" Fitch said. "We learned a lot more about him once he got here, how he handled his business in that redshirt year. You can fake it for 48 hours (on a visit).
"But in a year, if you have a character flaw, a work ethic flaw, it's going to show. He passed all those tests. He's making the most of this second opportunity."
If Scott can lead USF to a conference championship this fall, it won't be the first football title he has won in Tampa. That came 12 years ago, when he played for the Lutz Chiefs and won a Pop Warner mighty mite Super Bowl championship in the fourth grade.
"I was the Lightning, and he was the Thunder," said UCLA receiver Josh Smith, Scott's uncle and teammate in high school and at Colorado. "He was always much bigger than me, but he was never a step behind."
Scott has had a promising first month for USF, rushing for 348 yards and five touchdowns. Against FAMU, he had a 56-yard touchdown run and 84-yard scoring reception, doing in a single quarter what no USF player had done in a single season: running and catching touchdowns of 50 yards or longer.
Tonight presents his first Big East challenge. And as Scott starts to hit his stride in his second college home, his comfort level begins with the family atmosphere he feels around the program, something seen best in the seconds after he finds the end zone.
"We're unified. You see us celebrate after touchdowns," Scott said.
"It's a little minishow after every touchdown. Everybody has a lot of love for each other."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com.