Rookie defensive tackle Niles Scott never experienced a Thanksgiving Day quite like last Thursday.
The Elkton native and former Cecil Whig All-County Defensive Player of the Year spent the holiday in Cincinnati after the Bengals signed Scott off the Denver Broncos’ practice squad and placed him on their 53-man roster as a replacement for Josh Tupou, who landed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral.
Three days later, Scott ran out of the tunnel at Paul Brown Stadium to play in his first-ever NFL game as the Bengals hosted the rival Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
“I’m very excited. I’m ecstatic. I’m excited to be out here, meeting a new group of guys, just being on a very well-coached coaching staff with guys that work hard every day, just put on their helmets and are ready to go,” Scott said Thursday prior to his professional debut. “I’m excited to learn the culture. After my first practice, I felt very comfortable here, I like the scheme and I like how everybody works and gels together out here. It’s a well-ran oiled machine out here and I’m very excited to [play] the rest of the season with them.”
Scott ended the contest Sunday with a pair of tackles. He made his first career tackle on the eighth play of the game when he dragged down running back Nick Chubbs after a 2-yard rush. In the second quarter, he broke through the offensive line and corralled Chubbs at the line of scrimmage for no gain, helping lead to a punt two plays later.
All told, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Scott played eight snaps in his first game in orange and black.
“I love how [longtime Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis] pushes you. I love how every day he expects you to give your all at your job. He expects nothing less than perfection out of the group of guys that he has. I feel like that really makes the team when you have a coach like that,” Scott said. “He expects you to be a pro, and that’s something that every team needs. They need that sort of leadership from a coach.”
It’s been an uphill journey for Scott, 23, who went from relative obscurity playing on Friday nights under the bright lights of Elkton High School Stadium to chasing down running backs on Sundays in front of thousands of fans and on national television.
Along the way, he starred at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland, becoming one of the nation’s few Division III football players to earn a spot on an NFL roster.
“A lot of unexpected stuff has definitely happened. But it’s also not unexpected when you keep the man above first. All the glory just goes to Him,” Scott said.
After signing with the San Francisco 49ers in April as a priority free agent, he spent the preseason with his new team, making six tackles in four exhibition contests.
But over the next month, Scott experienced the cruelty of the NFL.
After being signed to the 49ers’ practice squad at the start of the season, he was released on Sept. 6 for former third-round pick Daeshon Hall. Six days later, the Broncos inked Scott to their practice squad, but released the rookie on Sept. 25 for punter Colby Wadman.
Denver then re-signed Scott to the taxi squad on Oct. 9, where he remained until the Bengals picked him up on Nov. 21.
“It was very weird. It was another one of those things where they had a situation going on and I was the last person in,” Scott said. “I was fortunate that I knew that I would be coming back. They didn’t mean for it to be as long as it was and they didn’t mean for it to happen to me. It was only supposed to take a week but it ended up taking two weeks.”
Scott discovered he would be changing teams for a third time following the Broncos’ final practice before Thanksgiving.
“I figured out that it was in the process of working after my practice on Wednesday. Literally 15 minutes later it was finalized. It was just all so surreal,” Scott remembered. “Going back to my locker, I looked at my phone and saw that my agent had called and texted me. I [thought] my agent knows that I practice at that time and usually doesn’t call or text me. That gave me the feeling something was up.
“I didn’t know the turnaround would be so quick. Talking to my agent, he let me know what was going to happen. I thought I had a day or two. He told me it was time to go.”
The NFL schedule hasn’t even turned to December, and Scott’s career has spanned three different teams in three different time zones and brought him from the West Coast to southern Ohio, where he’s a day’s drive from his hometown in Cecil County.
“Going from a very low point in your career, you’ve got to stick to your guns, constantly working hard, even when you can’t see the finish line. The fact that it can still happen really makes you value hard work. It makes you value going to the gym every single day, even on off days, doing what others really can’t see. It really makes you value the time you put into developing your craft, because at the end of the day, it’s your craft, and you’re going to get out of it what you put into it,” Scott said. “It definitely, definitely means a lot looking at the big picture, but we’re not anywhere done and we’re just going to continue working hard.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig