Josiah Scott is on the rise within Michigan State University’s football program. He’s been rising, in fact, pretty much since he got here.
Scott graduated early from Fairfield High School last December and enrolled at MSU in January. All he’s done is achieve a grade point average around 3.5 and earn a starting spot as a cornerback for the Spartans.
“I think it’s been good for me just getting up here early, being around the guys, getting established with class and also on the football field,” Scott said Monday afternoon during an interview on campus. “It was a good eye-opening experience to be able to go through spring ball with the guys and just see how college football works.”
Not that he didn’t miss some things from his senior year of high school.
“I had a chance to go back for my prom, but I feel like it was just best for me to stay up here,” Scott said. “It was finals week, so I studied to keep my grades up. The coaches up here encouraged me to go back and walk (for graduation), so I did that, and it was a fun experience.
“When I was up here, I had a group chat with my friends back at home and they were doing a bunch of fun stuff, but I knew this would be best for me to just get up here early. I feel like at the end, I made a great decision. I feel like I could compete at the next level, at a very high level, so why not just get up here early? Just waiting around would do nothing for me.
“In a sense, it is like a job. We always have a bunch of stuff going on. But at the same time, I’m having fun with it. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
On the field, Scott stepped forward right away. He entered Michigan State’s spring game as a starter and responded by leading the team with eight tackles and picking off a pass.
Spartans assistant coach Harlon Barnett, a co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, wasn’t surprised by Scott’s showing.
Asked if it was a coming-out party of sorts for Scott, Barnett shook his head.
“Maybe for everybody else, but not us,” he said. “Nobody over here was surprised by what he did in the spring game because he had been doing it all spring long. We already knew what he was.”
The interception was just another play for the 5-foot-10, 173-pound Scott.
“It happened fast,” he said. “I was just playing and saw the ball coming and I was like, ‘I did this back in high school, so why not do it at the college level?’ And I got my first pick.”
The spring game drew about 25,000 fans. That number will triple during the regular season at Spartan Stadium.
Scott is fine with performing in the spotlight. He chose MSU over schools like Iowa, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.
In describing himself as a player, Scott said, “Smart. Quick twitch. Being able to break on the ball really fast. I have really good catchup speed. Not shying away from any contact at all. I’m welcoming any contact.”
Film study is a way of life with college football players, and so it is with Scott. He said he watched a lot of film back at Fairfield, but it doesn’t compare to his film routine now.
“After three or four spring practices, I kind of started picking up on the speed and the pace of the game,” Scott said. “You’ve got to go really fast every single play. In the spring, the coaches allowed me to keep coverages limited so I could play as fast as I can. I thought it really helped just giving me bits and pieces every day in the spring.
“I’m running with the starters, but in college you have to fight for that position every single day. Guys are on scholarship just like you, so you just come in with a dog attitude and grind every single day like you’re not a starter.”
Fairfield coach Jason Krause saw something special in Scott several years ago.
“No. 1, I think he’s got a tremendous football IQ,” Krause said. “He understands the schemes offensively and defensively. He’s really smart with little things like alignments, down and distance. Secondly, he’s a tremendous competitor. He wants to win at everything he does.
“And third, I think he’s just really, really athletic and skilled. That’s a pretty good combination of things for a football player. He’s just a tremendous leader, a high-character guy.”
Krause was surprised that Scott didn’t receive any college offers until the spring of his junior year. Army and Navy were the first two programs to offer.
Why the delay in offers? Krause said it was a matter of size.
“I think a lot of people were kind of worried about his size and weight,” the FHS coach said. “We just felt like his skill sets and his change of direction and his competitiveness and football IQ were going to surpass that, and obviously that’s what ended up happening.”
Scott described Michigan State’s conditioning and strength programs as “quite intense” and said he’s added about seven pounds since enrolling.
Krause is a proponent of kids graduating early from high school and heading to college. His son Hunter did it. Malik Vann and Jackson Carman, rising senior standouts at Fairfield, plan to do it as well.
“I think any kid that does that is going to benefit from it,” Krause said. “If they want to play early, there’s nothing better than getting into the program, getting with the dietician and strength training and working with your position coach. I think right now that’s kind of the trend that I’m trying to have with our guys to get their careers started.”
Barnett is a Cincinnati guy, a former Greater Miami Conference standout and 1985 Princeton High School graduate. He grew up in Woodlawn, went on to play at Michigan State and spent seven seasons in the NFL.
He recruits Southwest Ohio and clearly knows a few things about the GMC.
“It’s good football,” Barnett said. “We have connections beyond myself with the Cincinnati area, and with coaches knowing our staff and what we’re about, they respect that. They trust us that way down there. It helps for a coach to be able to tell a parent, ‘I know these guys and they’re good people. They’re really trying to do it the right way and take care of your son.’
“Josiah Scott … we really watched that junior year film. I’m like, ‘This dude can play.’ The only issue with everybody, and us to a certain extent, was height. Once I finally met him and got a chance to look at him, I thought for the way he plays, he’s tall enough. He can run. He has good ball skills. He’s tough, aggressive, smart. If the dude was 6-foot or 6-1, everybody in the country probably would’ve offered him.”
Barnett has coached numerous high-level defensive backs, including Darqueze Dennard, who’s now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Scott has yet to play a college game, but Barnett likes his potential to be an impact player at this level.
“He’s legitimately earned his starting spot heading into camp,” Barnett said. “Our thing around here is the best players play. No favoritism. None of that crap. We don’t care if you’re a fifth-year senior or a true freshman. The best players play.
“Josiah has a chance to be really, really good, and he’s done nothing to disappoint so far. If you have a team full of Josiah Scotts, meaning as a person and as a student and as a player, that’s what you want. Those are the three things we talk about in recruiting.”
Barnett is looking for an improved Spartan defense this year. Michigan State is coming off a 3-9 campaign and returns no defensive backs that started on Opening Day in 2016.
Players will gather for the start of fall camp on July 30.
“I feel good about the defense. They’re hungry,” Barnett said. “Last year we struggled with finishing. Dominant defenses finish. That’s our focus in improving.”
Scott, an athletic training/kinesiology major, said he can relate to Barnett for several reasons. Their GMC backgrounds are part of that.
Barnett is proud to be a Princeton Viking. “We were Colerain before there was Colerain,” he said of his playing days. “We won championships.”
“He does bring it up,” Scott said. “Every once in a while in the spring, we’d be watching film and he’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Fairfield DB play for you.’ I tell him Princeton wasn’t as good as us, and he’ll be like, ‘Look back at the GMC and you’ll see all of our records.’ ”
“We have a little fun with it,” Barnett said. “The mighty Vikings, man. I always mess with my guys from down there that played against Princeton. They give me a hard time.”
Scott’s family includes three other college defensive backs — his father (Oliver) and two brothers (Isaiah and Josh). Josh is coaching seventh-grade football at Fairfield.
“Everybody always wanted to grow up and play running back, so I wanted to play running back,” Josiah said. “I’m playing football in seventh grade and I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if this is going to be the best position for me.’ So I went to my secondary position. I’d been going through DB drills with my brothers in the backyard, so why not try this out? And look where I am now.”
He might see action beyond his defensive duties at Michigan State. Scott has been working on punt and kickoff returns and could prove to be a factor on special teams.
Scott said he’ll miss wearing his red Fairfield jersey, but he feels comfortable in MSU green.
“I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan. My whole room’s green,” he said. “So this kind of fits.”