Like the majority of Naval Academy athletes, Craig Scott was a standout in high school.
Likewise, as is the case with most of his football teammates, Scott gave up any hope of future gridiron glory for a much greater calling, to serve his country.
In exchange, he is getting a quality education not just in the classroom, but in life skills, discipline and personal growth. There is also the honor of representing the academy on the football field.
Scott will tell you, however, that there has been no sacrifice on his part, only benefits.
“It’s been a blessing, honestly, and a challenge, as well. These last four years, I have changed in so many numerous ways. I am blessed to have gotten this opportunity,” said Scott, following Navy’s Tuesday practice in preparation for Saturday’s Army-Navy game.
A slightly-built wide receiver, Scott was honored following his senior year in high school with the Otis Taylor Award (named for the former Kansas City Chiefs great) as the most outstanding receiver in the Kansas City (Mo.) Metropolitan area. Despite his size (6-foot, 180 pounds), Scott was recruited by several Division I schools, and chose Navy.
That meant an additional sacrifice for Scott, one on the playing field, as Navy doesn’t employ an offense where it passes the ball more than a few times a game. Scott has caught only five passes and scored but one touchdown in his college career.
Still, he doesn’t regret his college career being less glamorous.
“It’s been different than I thought it might be coming out of high school, but at the same time I feel like Navy football has made me into a complete football player,” said Scott. “In high school, I wouldn’t have called myself a team player. I didn’t give 100 percent effort all the time, wasn’t giving my all on every play. That’s one big thing Navy football has taught me.
“It’s taught me so many lessons. I feel like those are the biggest things I can take away,” he added.
A senior, Scott said he has gotten much more than he had expected or hoped to get by attending the Naval Academy.
“It’s gone beyond my expectations. I had my thoughts coming in that it would be like a military school and I didn’t really have a military background … It’s been a great place to become a leader,” he continued. “These last five years (he attended the Naval Academy Prep School) have been a learning experience, but also a challenge. It’s created something I’m proud of.”
Scott’s major is quantitative economics, and his favorite course? Thermodynamics.
“It is really hard, but I found it applicable to everyday life,” he said.
He credited his dad, who was in Junior ROTC member in high school, for doing a lot of the leg work researching the academy and for pushing him to see the big picture for a lifetime rather than just a few years into the future.
“Coming out of high school I wanted to challenge myself. I am really grateful that I came here,” said Scott, who said his father had “to take care of his family when he came out of high school” but wanted him to have more.
Scott said one way he has handled the pressures of the Naval Academy is through his sense of humor.
“I love making jokes. I am always making fun of something in a joking way. Even in sometimes serious situations I make somebody laugh,” he said, flashing a charismatic grin. “It’s definitely helped me to get through school on a day-to-day basis. That’s one thing I will go ahead and take the title for, that I am the funniest person at the Naval Academy.”
Scott credited head coach Ken Niamatololo and his receivers coach Mick Yokitis for making his time on the football field a success, and for his development as a person of great character.
“The coaches don’t just want you to be a great football player, it’s part of their mission to make you a great man, husband, dad, brother and all of that. What they teach here, you can’t find anywhere else in the nation,” he said.
Equally, both coaches were complimentary of the way Scott has handled himself on and off the football field.
“Craig is very unselfish, a great kid. He's done a lot of good things without any fanfare,” Niamatololo said. “He doesn't look for the limelight, which is kind of the nature of our football program.”
Yokitis recruited Scott out of high school.
“On the field, he’s a fierce competitor,” said Yokitis. “Where some people see a 190-pound player, they don’t realize how much he competes. All our kids here are special, so it takes a special person to play at the Naval Academy. Craig is one of them. From the day we started camp (this year), Craig has been the first one out every day, getting extra work.”
Even though he has just five catches and 13 punt returns at Navy, Scott’s career has not been without its highlights.
His two biggest would rank high on anyone’s list --- winning his first Army-Navy game and catching his first, and only, college touchdown pass against Notre Dame.
“Number one was beating Army my sophomore year, which was my first time on varsity. That feeling was just crazy. I knew that Army-Navy was the biggest feeling ever, but at the same time it’s different when you are in the locker room or on the field,” Scott said. “and scoring a touchdown against Notre Dame, that’s something I can tell my kids, that I scored against Notre Dame,” he said. “. . . And every day coming in to see my brothers. It’s the best part of my day…seeing them makes my day better.”
As a punt returner, Scott has been considered a success by his coaches. He has returned only seven punts for 51 yards, fair-catching the ball most if the time, but he has yet to fumble.
“Craig has been very reliable as a punt returner and done a very good job,” said Niamatololo. “I couldn't be more proud of him. He’s a great kid, a great ambassador for our school and program.
As his football playing days wind down, Scott has one more chance to compete in an Army-Navy game. Even though the Mids will be playing in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28, a win in the annual service academy rivalry will be the highlight of the season. It would also return the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to Navy, which lost possession of it after getting beaten by both Army and Air Force last season for the first time since 2001.
“The playing field has been set already. It’s been set since last December 9th (the date of last year’s game). That can’t give you any more motivation than it already does,” assured Scott. “I feel like we’re ready to make sure the CIC comes back to us.”