PSU C Juice Scruggs almost didn’t make it to the Rose Bowl.
Clifford and Brown are out of eligibility, and although Scruggs could have played college football in 2023 if he wanted to, he decided to declare for the NFL Draft and start pursuing that after the Rose Bowl.
Scruggs was among the Lions who ended their career on a high note Monday in Pasadena.
If an already catastrophic event in Scruggs’s life had been even worse, he wouldn’t have been in Pasadena or anywhere else Jan. 2.
Scruggs began his college football journey in the 2018 season. He redshirted his freshman year at Penn State and was hoping to become a contributor on Saturdays the next fall.
The week before spring practice, Scruggs suffered an injury that cost him his 2019 campaign.
It could have cost him a lot more.
Scruggs was seriously hurt in a single-car accident roughly a half-hour away from his hometown, Ashtabula, Ohio. The accident ejected Scruggs from the vehicle, broke his back and gave him a concussion. He spent a week in the hospital and another at home.
The accident could have ended his life, let alone his football career.
Scruggs knows how close everything was to being all over, and he never imagined that he’d play in a Rose Bowl Game.
“I couldn’t picture this,” Scruggs told NSN after the game. “If you had told me back in 2019 when I was in a brace that I would be a Rose Bowl champ my senior year, to go out on top, I would have told you, ‘yeah, right.’
”Just the fact that, I just couldn’t… I’m at a loss for words. I’m sorry.”
Scruggs had nothing to apologize for.
He didn’t break down in tears at that moment. But if he had, no reasonable person would have blamed him.
Scruggs never thought about quitting football, and got himself back on the field in 2020. He played in all nine games of that year. The next season, he started all 13 games on Penn State’s line, spending most of his time at guard. The year after that, he became Penn State’s starting center.
No, Scruggs wasn’t the most celebrated of Penn State’s veterans. Clifford had that title on the offense, Brown the defense. He also wasn’t the most recognized player on Penn State’s offensive line. That title belonged to left tackle Olu Fashanu, who was projected to be a top 10 Draft pick before he announced he was staying at Penn State for the 2023 season. But everybody within the program knows what Scruggs meant to it.
Before the season, Clifford called Scruggs the “keystone” of Penn State’s offensive line. His head coach loved him, too.
At a Tuesday press conference in November, James Franklin said Scruggs “makes us go.”
“I’m a huge Juice Scruggs fan,” Franklin said.
Of all the storylines of Penn State’s 2022 season, the running game was near the top of the list, if not No. 1. True freshman Nick Singleton eclipsed 1,000 yards, rushed for 12 touchdowns and 6.8 yards per carry. Classmate Kaytron Allen wasn’t too shabby, either, going for 867 yards, 10 touchdowns and 5.2 yards per carry. The running game wouldn’t have been what it was, and Penn State wouldn’t have made it to the Rose Bowl, if not for the improved offensive line, which Scruggs anchored as the PSU C
For both position groups, the Rose Bowl was a feather in the cap. The signature moment was Singleton’s 87-yard run in the third quarter, which broke a 14-14 tie and gave Penn State a lead it wouldn’t give up.
If Penn State had won the Rose Bowl 3-0, it would have been a great day. But for offensive lineman like Scruggs, scoring 35 points and rushing for 169 yards and 5.5 yards per carry makes it sweeter.
“It’s just an unbelievable moment,” Scruggs said. “To share the moment with my brothers is something I’ll remember forever.”
Nobody knows what the future holds for Scruggs, Brown, Clifford or anybody leaving Penn State. Nor do we know what will become of Singleton, Allen, linebacker Abdul Carter or anybody returning to Penn State next season.
But Scruggs is already a winner and an inspiration, and he encourages athletes who are recovering from injuries and other adversities to “stay positive.”
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” he said. “And that’s something that’s really true. It’s not just a saying. No matter what, just stay focused, have tunnel vision, and focus on the end goal, because, like I said, if I had quit, I’d have never been standing here a Rose Bowl champ.”