football Edit

2024 Chicago DL and Michigan target Justin Scott living up to early hype

It was lunch time at St. Ignatius College Prep in the late morning on Wednesday, with the mess hall littered with teenagers, most of whom had white t-shirts covered in sharpie coloring. It was assumed that they were seniors and the words on the t-shirts were names of the student's friends.

St. Ignatius, which is located adjacent the campus of UIC on the west side of Chicago, Illinois, is one of the oldest private preparatory schools in the city when founded in 1869. The hallways and decor of the school resembled as if someone was stepping into a time machine. Stained grass covered the walls and statues of well known priests and religious figures posed with dignity at intersections of the hallways.

Outside of a strict dress code that included collared shirts and zero hats allowed, it was easy to pinpoint the uniques physical and personality traits of the students. Each one had his or her own way of standing out. But there was one student, in particular, that towered above the rest.

Sitting in an eight-person table surrounded by his friends, a tall 6-foot-5 and lean 290-plus pound rising sophomore laughed with such joy when I entered the cafeteria that it echoed. His shoulders rose higher than some of the others heads, his knees nearly scratching the bottom of the table's surface, and sporting a pair of shoes that were so clean that you could eat off of them.

This wasn't an ordinary student. At St. Ignatius or any other secondary education building throughout the entire city of Chicago. This student may not understanding it fully yet, but he has the third largest town in the United States' attention.

How 2024 Rivals250 four-star defensive lineman Justin Scott became one of the most hyped high school football players ever in the Windy City:

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Scott was a rising eighth grader when he and his mom took a tour of St. Ignatius back in 2020 to shadow. That's when the school's admissions office caught eye and immediately emailed football head coach Matt Miller, who had to see this young adolescent who stood over six feet and weight over 200 pounds. Not many, if ever, have walked through the St. Ignatius doors before with an imposing frame like Scott's, despite it being over a century-year-old.

Miller has been a member of the coaching staff at St. Ignatius since 2015. The first two years as offensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coordinator before earning the promotion as head coach. Throughout his time with the school, St. Ignatius didn't have one player who signed a Division I scholarship to play collegiate football. That'll change this December for the 2023 class with cornerback John Kemp but Scott will be the second in school history to do so.

“Don’t mess it up, right (laughs),” Miller told The Maize and Blue Review. “Finding ways and being smart with how we go about using (Scott). We’ve been moving towards a one-way model, but then when you have a player like Justin, you have to find a way to utilize him right. We’re just trying to take it in stride. Managing his recruitment and giving him an opportunity to train and get better. Also, having him continue to be like everyone else. Keep him level headed. Just trying to navigate him through visits too. Right now, that’s all on his time and dime. It’s been a new challenge to navigate through all of that.”

St. Ignatius actually disbanded football in 1964 before bringing back the sport 41 years later. Miller said there isn't anything on record of anyone graduating before 1964 who played college football at the highest level either. So, in the 153-year history of the school, Scott will be one-of-two along with Kemp to reach that milestone come late next year on National Signing Day.

That's a mind blowing statistic even of itself. But factoring in that Scott has only played two seasons of football in his entire year, along with just one year on the varsity squad, it's just out of this world. How did Miller set out to convince Scott to try out for a sport he never done before? How did someone with such raw talent earn the attention of nearly the entire Big Ten and other national collegiate powerhouses?

Scott had ambitions of making it to the NBA as a two-guard before enrolling at St. Ignatius. He still plays on the hardwood at the school and also on the AAU circuit. Scott was always the largest athlete on his teams growing up so it makes sense why someone at his stature would want to continue playing professionally.

St. Ignatius was lacking perennial big men on the football team though and Miller didn't have to look far to scout someone to fill that role. Miller just had to have Scott strap on the shoulder pads, even if the latter never hit another person on astroturf before. Miller knew that he could maximize Scott's potential if given the opportunity. He just had to do some convincing.

Scott's mother, at first, didn't want her son to play such a violent sport. The thought of individuals banging heads and throwing each other down with malice was not the activity she had in mind for her son. Miller promised to take care of Scott's wellbeing, and she obliged, but only if Scott started out on the JV team.

“It was really just myself, and my mom, because she didn’t really want me playing football and I liked basketball so much that I didn’t feel the need to play football," Scott told The Maize and Blue Review. "But one of my teammates asked me if I was going to come play and I said ‘I don’t really know.' I was a basketball guy but I gave it a shot. I came to the first workout and it’s been rolling ever since.”

The COVID-19 pandemic would terminate the fall season two years ago for Chicago and better parts of the country. So, Scott's first year playing football was actually that following spring. Miller inserted Scott as a fullback and defensive lineman. It didn't take long for Scott to get accustomed to the physicality of the game. Recognizing that he had the raw power to dominate opponents meant that there could be a future for him in football. College coaches caught on by the fall of last year with Illinois being the first offer back in September.

Now, as Scott continues to grow his frame, he's eclipsed the 15-offer mark with Minnesota being the latest to jump onboard. Tennessee, USC, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, and Michigan are also doing its due diligence in prioritizing the rising sophomore. It won't be long until the rest of the Power 5 catches on as well.

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So when did Miller start realizing that he had a crown jewel on his team? It was before the Illinois offer when a local scout came to watch the team practice. Miller was standing beside the evaluator, who after watching Scott, told Miller that he could play for a school like LSU. That had Miller thinking that there was something special in Scott that just hasn't grabbed the attention of the recruiting world yet.

Before the offers starting flooding in for Scott, Miller admitted that he tried relentlessly for college coaches, regardless of level and conference, to come and check out his players. Now, Miller has trouble finding time for himself while juggling his work with the school and the never ending amount of college personnel showing up to meet with him and Scott. Emails, calls, and texts flood Miller's phone on a daily basis, who can't help but notice all of the notifications that continue to pop up one at a time.

It goes to show how much hype that has surrounded Scott in just a short amount of time. Scott currently ranks as the top athlete in the state of Illinois, the third highest rated defensive lineman in the 2024 class, and among the Rivals100 at No. 34 overall.

“It definitely means something to me but it’s like a target on my back with this season coming up," Scott said. "Basically, everyone in Chicago has heard or knows about me. It definitely puts a target on me and now I have to go out and prove myself. I’m just taking it in stride though.”

On film, there might not be a more exciting and fun five-minute highlight package than Scott's. He is without a doubt the tallest, heaviest, strongest, and most athletic player on the field. An explosiveness off the snap of the ball allows him to get into the backfield before offensive lineman can get out of their stances. A punch that can drive back and stumble those lineman a few yards. Don't waste your time with just one person blocking Scott, otherwise he'll just enter the backfield and disrupt the play before it even progresses.

"He's a naturally fluid athlete," Miller said. "He can obviously dunk the basketball and ran a sub 5.1 laser 40 time a few weeks ago. The athleticism is for sure there. His biggest thing was getting into the weight room. As an AAU guy, I don't think he did that sort of training. But strength wise, if we as coaches can max that part of his game, he'll be a tough guy to block."

Miller utilizes Scott's versatility by putting him anywhere along the line. He can either play head up on the center, clog the B gaps, or rush along the edges as a five-technique. That durability even has Miller considering to have Scott play on the other side as a tight end. Scott's hands are massive – as evident when I shook his hand – and are so well crafted from his basketball career that catching passes up the seam and down the sidelines sounds like a no-brainer.

"In ways, he's grown both athletically and personally," Miller said. "He answers questions well and is very well spoken. He's really just stayed grounded through the whole process. I mean, I'm contacting him daily whether it's about coaches and stuff. But he's still one of the guys with the other students. He's not big timing anybody or anything. I think he's done really well with everything. He's just a good kid."

I asked Scott if he ever gets compared to anyone. He thought of that question for a moment and answered with Jordan Davis. Yes, the same Davis who got drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles and was instrumental in Georgia's national championship run last year. Davis is about an inch taller and 50 pounds heavier than Scott right now, who is still not done growing. As stated before, more time in the weight room will provide Scott with more bulk before he goes off to college, whose strength and conditioning program will only get him to his ideal setting.

Miller couldn't remember a high schooler out of Chicago, more specifically a defensive lineman, with had more hype surrounding him outside of former Michigan State standout and All-Big Ten recipient Raequan Williams, who was a four-star recruit by Rivals.com back in 2015 while at DePaul College Prep.

All of the praise that Scott has received in just a short amount of time might be overwhelming for some, but for him, it's a matter of focusing on the general picture. He has the comfort of having very supportive individuals in his inner circle, including his mother and Miller, who have helped navigate him through the murky waters of college football recruiting. It's all about now working off of the early success and reaching new heights of that potential before it's time to commit.

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If there's any indication of how much of a priority Scott has become for Michigan since offering him back in late-March, this should be a strong telling: Miller mentioned during our interview that offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore stopped by St. Ignatius the day prior to me arriving during his rounds in Chicago for the spring evaluation period.

This was the second time that Moore has visited the school since the winter. Of course, defensive line coach Mike Elston has made his face known on campus, with the focus of getting to know Scott on a personal level with further evaluation. Elston, who came to St. Ignatius the second day of the eval period, was the one credited with offering Scott as Michigan became the fourth program out of the Big Ten to extend major interest.

When asked for an opinion of Elston, Scott showed a strong liking for him. Scott would include the Wolverines among those who he's most frequently heard from this winter and spring. Others were Iowa, Illinois, and Notre Dame.

Notre Dame would offering the day before USC as it looks to translate its recent success of multiple 2023 commits to the class below them. Scott is the quintessential blue-chipper and would fit exceptional for any school as a three or one technique.

“(It) definitely (hit me that I could play football after high school) after that one practice back in September when I got that first offer from Illinois," Scott said. "It really happened sooner than I thought because we were only into our third game. Definitely that moment right there. Sometime it feels surreal because I used to want the same thing but for basketball. You can say it kind of transferred over. I just didn’t expect the football offers to come this early.”

Michigan won't go down without a fight in this recruitment. Elston has worked his way towards having a close relationship with Scott, who said that once he goes up to Ann Arbor to visit for the first time, Elston promised him that he'll show how to make a trademark pesto pasta dish. Cooking is an activity that the two share a liking to and pasta is Scott's favorite dish to make. Unless you count cereal.

Education will be one of the main focuses for Scott when searching for the right fit. His mother also values her son earning a quality degree from a world class university. She has shown equal attentiveness in Michigan, according to Scott, who has intentions of traveling across the state of Michigan sometime in June for a camp hosted by the program. The Wolverines' big man camp is slated for the fifth of that month.

"Justin is obviously really grateful for any opportunity that he gets to play at the next level," Miller said. "Michigan has that rich tradition and history. They've always been in the conversation as a top team in the country. Even last year with them getting an opportunity to play in the College Football Playoff. I believe Michigan was the first nationally recognized program to offer Justin and he's certainly interested with him."

Miller stressed how important it is for Scott to start traveling to schools unofficially to get an idea on where he stands on the boards and a comfort level of being on location. Part of Michigan's recruiting success has been getting recruits onsite and to check out the facilities first-hand. Scott truly wants to get a more detailed look of Michigan. If getting out next month isn't possible, then sometime later in the summer or fall is nothing short of guaranteed.

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