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PSU in the NFL

Smeltzer: Good for Juice Scruggs

If you didn’t expect former Penn State center Juice Scruggs to go in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, don’t feel bad: Juice Scruggs didn’t expect Juice Scruggs to go in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft.

As the event progressed, Scruggs began to get a good idea that he could be a Houston Texan.

His agent told him that Houston could be a destination and that he could go to the Texans in the third round.

Neither Scruggs nor his agent predicted him to go at pick No. 62.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be in the second round,” an elated Scruggs told reporters via Zoom Friday night. “I’m so thankful for this opportunity, for sure.

“My heart just started racing, and I answered the call.”

Scruggs wasn’t supposed to be selected so soon, and like with any draft pick and any round, we don’t know how people will remember the pick.

He may become a staple in Houston’s offensive line for years.

Or maybe he won’t last long. You never know with any draft pick.

But there are no maybes about this: People like Scruggs deserve to have good things come their way.

Lately, it feels like everything is going Scruggs’s way.

In 2022, Scruggs was the anchor of Penn State’s first solid offensive line in what felt like forever, helping the team to an 11-2 record.

2023 has been even better so far.

On the year’s second day, Scruggs was the starting center in Penn State’s second-ever Rose Bowl win.

Almost four months later, he became a second-round draft pick.

If there’s anybody who deserves to have good things happen to him— and anybody motivated enough to make those good things happen— it’s  Scruggs.

I’ve been on the Penn State beat since November 2021, which is a short time. I have yet to get to know too many players, and most of the conversations I do have are shared with surrounding reporters.

I don’t know Scruggs well, but the people that do can attest.

Earlier this month, Penn State’s projected starting left guard, Landon Tengwall,was answering a question via Zoom about the improvement of Penn State’s offensive line over the past year.

He said Scruggs was the man who “set the standard.”

“That’s our guy, Tengwall said. “We love him. Shout out Juice because he’s doing great right now.”

Tengwall was so happy to talk about Scruggs, he lost track of the question he was answering.

No shame in that. People love Juice.

“Juice Scruggs,” offensive lineman Drew Shelton said at Penn State’s second-year player media availability this February. “He took us all in as soon as we got here. Me and Vega (Ioane), in the meeting room. He sat right next to him, I sat right behind him, and he had all the answers. Well, not all the answers, but he had most of the answers.”

There was a point in Scruggs’s life where it didn’t seem like anything was going his way.

The week before spring practice, Scruggs suffered an injury that cost him his 2019 campaign.

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 didn’t give up.

Didn’t even consider it.

By the 2020 season, Scruggs was ready to roll, and he ended up playing seven games in his first true college football campaign— he redshirted in 2018 and missed 2019 due to the accident.

It was already a nice comeback story, but, well, it happened to take place in the middle of COVID-19 and what turned into Penn State’s only losing season in the past 20 years.

Fast forward to 2021. Scruggs became a regular on Penn State’s offense, starting all 13 games, mainly at guard.

Not bad for a guy that almost lost his life two years prior.

But Scruggs would have probably preferred it if Penn State didn’t lose six of its last eight games to finish 7-6 and if the offensive line wasn’t one of the most heavily scrutinized parts of the team.

2022 was Scruggs’s year. The team was good, and so was the line, and Scruggs was the anchor.

Days before the season opener at Purdue, quarterback Sean Clifford called Scruggs the “keystone” of Penn State’s offense on a Zoom call with reporters.

Scruggs backed up that statement, starting 12 games at center, culminating with a glorious night in Pasadena.

After Penn State’s Rose Bowl win over Utah, I had the pleasure of talking with Scruggs 1-on-1.

Every player who wins the Rose Bowl is ecstatic, and many publically show that excitement.

In the afterglow of Penn State’s win over Utah, I saw some cool moments.

I saw offensive lineman Bryce Effner yell “you’re on scholarship!” to then-walk-on linebacker Dom DeLuca— news which became official the next day.

I saw KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who set a Rose Bowl record with an 88-yard touchdown reception, proudly stick a rose between his teeth.

But my favorite moment from the Rose Bowl, and among my favorites on the Penn State beat so far, was talking with Scruggs.

A key aspect of being a sportswriter— and, I suppose you could argue, a downside of the profession— is having to be impartial. The more we root for teams and players, the more the fan/writer line gets blurred, so normally, the best course of action is to not care what team wins or which players perform well.

But that night in Pasadena, I couldn’t help but be happy for Scruggs.

As a writer, that’s technically unprofessional.

As a human being, it was only natural.

Look at Scruggs’s expression in this article’s feature image.

How could I have not been thrilled for the man?

“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 absolutely nothing to apologize for, and he reflected on his odyssey.

“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.”

And if he quit, he wouldn’t have been a second-round NFL draft pick.

“The moment, I can’t describe it,” Scruggs said Friday night. “It’s everything I thought it would be and more. I’m just ready to go.”

Juice Scruggs is ready, and I don’t think his football story is close to being done.

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