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O-lineman Scruggs after breaking his back: ‘It never crossed my mind that football was over for me’

It’s easy to root for Juice Scruggs, a young man who suffered a broken back from a scary car accident and has battled his way back to be able to play football again.

“I always had in my head I’m gonna be back on the field,” Scruggs said. “That was always my mindset. It never crossed my mind that football was over for me.”

Scruggs, an offensive lineman from Ashtabula, Ohio, was in an auto accident in March of 2019, just before the start of spring drills. He was ejected from the vehicle and said he fractured his L3 vertebrae.

“It just had to heal on its own,” Scruggs said. “I didn’t need no surgery or anything. It just took time and it had to heal.”

The healing process involved Scruggs wearing a back brace — for eight months.

“At first it was hard,” he said of wearing the brace. “I had to go around on this little scooter. I could barely walk. When I would walk after a little while it would start to hurt. It was super painful. But once I got used to the back brace, it really helped my posture because it had me so straight up.”

It was inevitable for Scruggs have some doubts about his future.

“Of course I had doubt,” he said. “Any time you have an injury like that, you’re gonna have doubt, doubt’s gonna come across your head. But at the same time, I just kept pushing. I knew in my head I just kept faith. I knew that hard times won’t last forever, I was gonna get over it.”

The accident happened 19 months ago, and it’s taken Scruggs a long time to get back to where he was physically before the incident.

“Right now I feel great,” he said. “I feel about as close to 100 percent as I’ve been.”

“With this injury, it’s taught me a lot,” he added. “When you injure something, there’s so much more that goes into it. It’s not just that specific injury or that specific part of your body. It was crazy how much your lips, your legs, hamstrings, everything goes into, it can help your back. That just really showed me I’ve got to really stretch. You’ve got to stretch your whole body, and it really helped my back out a lot.”

Scruggs, a redshirt sophomore who was a four-star recruit from Erie Cathedral Prep, hasn’t played football in two years. He appeared in one game his true freshman season late in 2018.

He didn’t think he’d get a chance to play this year because the Big Ten initially postponed the season two months ago.

“When the news came out that the season was being postponed or canceled, whatever you want to call it, it was a letdown,” Scruggs said. “But at the same time, in my head, it was just more time for me to recover and gain more strength.

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“Now that the season is a go, I’m just super eager just to get out there and show people, because I know a lot of people haven’t seen me play at all. So I just want to show people what I can do.”

Scruggs is splitting time between center and guard.

“My goal is whenever my number gets called, I’m gonna be ready,” he said. “Right now I’ve been playing both center and guard, and I’ve just been trying to get better, take mental reps and get as much as possible, get both positions down to a T, so when my number is called I’m ready to go.”

Scruggs went so long without playing football and actually hitting anyone because of his injury and then the coronavirus delays. He was ready, though, when it came time to start hitting during preseason camp.

“It’s been a long time and just been something I’ve been waiting for,” he said of those first few hits in practice. “When it came, I was thinking in my head to myself, Is it gonna be different? How is this about to go? But then after that first hit, it was like back to normal, it’s football. That first hit, I was like, yeah, I’m good to go. No worries after that.”

Still, Scruggs knows things will be different for him after such a scary injury.

“It’s just knowing that my body’s not the same as everybody else’s,” he said. “Some days I might have to do nothing. But other days I might have to be in ice tubs multiple times, ice all the time, stretching

I know my body, and I know it’s different now, and I just have to be aware of that.”

He also was asked an interesting question about if he will ever be the same person after suffering a broken back.

“I expect myself to be back to where I was,” Scruggs said. “I wouldn’t say right now that I’m the same player that I was before the injury. Because I’m not. But I’m gonna get there, and hopefully I’m gonna be an even better player than I was before the injury.”

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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